Archive for April, 2015

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

CapoteThe chilling true crime ‘non-fiction novel’ that made Truman Capote’s name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative.

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human.

It was refreshing to read a non-fiction title for a change. The last one we read was years ago, and I think I should certainly refresh my choice of books in future. The beginning was a struggle for me as I was wondering where it was going (even though I knew exactly where it was going). However, once we hit the actual murders I was hooked on every word. We’ve all read a crime novel, and we’ve all read a real-life story at some point, but this was something different. The quality in both the writing and research was simply masterful, and I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything like it.

Capote takes the views from both the killers, the victims’ friends, the police, the witnesses and various others involved in this horrific crime. He than crafts his account in as accurate a way as he possibly can to ensure that a fully-rounded account is offered to his readers. The length at which he goes to deliver this novel is quite astonishing and I’m pretty confident in saying that the whole group thought so too. It was interesting to read about the killers both before and after the murders and it’s quite unbelievable how emotionless they appeared to be.

As a group we all felt that the way in which the actual murders was described was a credit to Capote’s thoughtful and tactful writing skill. We didn’t need to know about the blood spatter, gore and the minute details of every shot or knife slash. Less was more in this case and Capote managed to paint a hauntingly vivid picture of the scenes without showering the reader with the usual bloody detail that seems to be required in modern day literature.

The end of the book, where the killers await execution, was both eye-opening and quite disturbing in equal measures, which prompted the group to discuss the death penalty and how relevant we think it is in today’s society. Thankfully, it’s not something we have to worry about in the UK, but it was interesting to discuss people’s thoughts on the American justice system and it was also interesting to read Capote’s account of other trials that were running at the same time as Smith and Hickcock’s.

The group, as a whole, found this to be quite a remarkable read and I would certainly recommend this to anyone who is interested in real-life crime, or indeed, crime fiction. It’s an exceptional read on many levels and a wonderful example of a well-written, factual account of one of the worst crimes in American history.

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres

BirdsSet against the backdrop of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, the Gallipoli campaign and the subsequent bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks, Birds Without Wings traces the fortunes of one small community in south-west Anatolia – a town in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have co-existed peacefully for centuries.

When war is declared and the outside world intrudes, the twin scourges of religion and nationalism lead to forced marches and massacres, and the peaceful fabric of life is destroyed. Birds Without Wings is a novel about the personal and political costs of war, and about love: between men and women; between friends; between those who are driven to be enemies; and between Philothei, a Christian girl of legendary beauty, and Ibrahim the Goatherd, who has courted her since infancy. Epic in sweep, intoxicating in its sensual detail, it is an enchanting masterpiece.

After reading a blurb like that who wouldn’t want to read the book? The minute I started reading I had the immediate feeling of excitement. What I held in my hands was a piece of artwork and I was gripped from the onset. Admittedly, I was a little worried about the length of the book. Could it sustain my interest for the entire 625 pages? Thankfully, it held my attention for about 580 pages, which isn’t bad going to be honest.

I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I became with the characters, their surroundings and their culture. Louis manages to draw you into this unfamiliar territory and continues to subtly keep you there amongst the Muslims, the Christians and their natural way of living. Just as you become comfortable with the characters’ life style everything changes. Actions have consequences, war has consequences, and the people at the bottom end of the scale feel the full brutality of these choices.

As you can imagine, we had a lot to discuss in our meeting. Even though we only had a few attend we still managed to drum up some thought-provoking conversations with some split opinions on the novel. Some of us read the book from cover to cover – carefully and thoughtfully – and absorbed every last detail within the book. I tried very hard to have this approach but unfortunately I did skip some of the historical chapters, as did some other members of the group too. You can get away with skipping some chapters but I did feel guilty as they were relevant and informative, but I just couldn’t keep my concentration through all of them.

We had some interesting discussions on both the religious and political aspect of the book and found that, considering the content, we all very much enjoyed it. Yes, some did struggle with the length of the book (me included) but it was certainly a rarity in the world of books and agreed that it was definitely a novel worth reading. It made for a refreshing change and I would certainly recommend it to any reader looking for a challenging read (in length) but a wonderful read (in content).

About the group

The Tees Valley Book Group meets at Stockton Central Library at 6.30pm on the first Tuesday of the month.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit


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