It is hard to imagine the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood as the same man. In 1958, Truman Capote wrote the story of a social butterfly whose anxieties are banished by a trip to Tiffany’s; in 1959, he began his dark examination of a quadruple murder, In Cold Blood, a book he finished just before it finished him, in 1966. In Cold Blood was the first non-fiction novel, attaching skilful and superior writing to a sensational ‘real-life’ subject. Capote turns the microscope from the subject matter of the book on to its author, making a clinical study of his experience during these six years.
Reading of the murders in the New York Times, Capote telephones his editor at the New Yorker, William Shawn, to tell him he has found his new subject. Capote is intrigued by the impact that such a brutal (and apparently unmotivated) killing spree has had on the local community. He wants to write about the violent collision of two worlds: the America that sits safe at home, and the criminal underclass which invades that safety. Taking his friend Harper Lee with him, Capote travels to Holcomb, Kansas, and introduces himself to the investigating agent, Alvin Dewey. Capote tells Dewey that he doesn’t care one way or the other whether or not the killers are caught — it makes no difference to his magazine article. ‘I care,’ responds Dewey, unimpressed. Capote learns instantly that he will have to engage himself personally to get his story. He swaps his distinctly outré floor-length camel-hair coat for a demure black reefer jacket, and gets down to some serious sucking-up.
It is not until the two murderers are arrested that Capote’s tale really begins.