Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dark and stormy

Current book: In Cold Blood
Pages read: 78 - 217

No update yesterday because I was just crazy busy, and then tired. Also, there really wasn't anything to say. And there's still barely anything to say.

Perry and Dick go to Mexico after bouncing a bunch of checks, stay there for while, and then hitchhike around the countryside of the central U.S. for about a month. Just before Christmas, Dewey, the main detective in the case back in Kansas, gets a lead on them from a former cellmate of Dick's, who heard him plan the killing when they were locked up together. This cellmate, who'd been a hired hand on the Clutter farm, apparently told Dick that Herb Clutter kept a safe in the house, which, on any given day, would have had ten grand in it. Untrue, but Dick reacted to the information by forming a plan to murder the family and abscond with the safe. When the cops hear the cellmate's tale, they track Dick and Perry to a cheap motel in Las Vegas, via pawnshop receipts, and lie in wait. They arrest Dick when he returns to the place, but have not yet found Perry.

It's still true crime and therefore uninteresting. Capote manages to take the mystery out of every event by relating it retrospectively, so you know what's going to happen before it even gets started. It'd be hard not to do that with the crime itself, but he does it about everything, and it's obnoxious.

The book shouldn't have been considered for the list. It's not fiction and certainly not literature. Can anyone who reads true crime explain the appeal? Why is it fun to read about actual deranged murders? I don't read thrillers or mystery novels, either, for the same reason, I suppose, and also because they're maddeningly predictable. I'm pretty much at a total loss about how they hold their audience's attention. (Do I sound peevish? That's because I am.)

I developed a rule for myself when I was an adolescent that if I picked up a book and it started with the main character's full name, I would put it right back on the shelf. For example, "Rex Clarke sat at the bar, clutching his glass of whiskey and thinking about how things had gone wrong." Clearly, no good will come of a book that starts that way. Nine times out of ten, it's a sign of impending drivel. Mystery novels. Blech.


  1. I guess the only novel even related to true crime that I've enjoyed is "Homicide," but I would say that's damn near anthropology field work, and certainly more about the characters than the crimes. Sure, they're real humans and one could argue little imagination went into their depiction, but there is a very saturated gradient of texture that eludes almost all literary characters. (I have it in the back of my mind that there's an author I appreciate for this very thing but of course I'm not going to be able to come up with the name.) I also applaud David Simon for the arrangement of the pieces. He had to have been floating in anecdotes and winnowed it to something coherent and illustrative. Sounds to me like Capote's story is, like Bilbo Baggins, butter spread over too much bread.

  2. As a corollary to your decision never to read a book that started with the main character's full name, I decided at about that time that the rule about proper antecedents was made for breaking.

    So, high five.

  3. Along those same lines and yet not, Dad and I decided back in the early days of our marriage that any recipe that ended with the word "Bake" was almost certainly NOT going to be worth trying. Also, I made the Avgolemono yesterday and, as you predicted, it was a disappointment. Too ricey, too thick, kind of gross. The Greek salad recipe from the Joy of Cooking cookbook, however, produced a great result.



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