I've always had a soft spot for Truman Capote. Probably because I'm named after Holly Golightly. My dad was watching BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S in a ski lodge bar and decided if he ever had a daughter he'd name her Holly. So here I am.
Speaking of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS, if you've never read it, shame on you. It's a melancholy (I loves me the melancholy), often touching, story that spawned an icon: ME! (Er, I mean, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightlly).
But as it so oftend does, all of this talk about me has led me off the point. Today's tribute is to True Crime, and perhaps one book, more than any other, defines the genre: IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote.
It is captivating.
Since it's a classic, there's not much I can say about it that hasn't already been said. On November 15, 1959, all four members of the Clutter family were murdered by shotgun at close range. On assignment by the NEW YORKER, Capote traveled to Holcombe, Kansas, where the murders took place. But he stayed in the town long after the article was finished, interviewing everyone in town, and over time, developing a close relationship with one of the murderers, Perry Smith. The book that resulted is absolutely haunting.
It's been said that Capote invented a new genre: the nonfiction novel. It's a genre I'm now a huge fan of, especially as it pertains to crime. For a time, I voraciously read every book written on the Black Dahlia (admittedly, many of those books are pure speculation and out right lies). I gobbled up James Ellroy's MY DARK PLACES, his account of his mother's murder and his troubled past. His latest, THE HILLIKER CURSE (though not stricly crime) is high on my "To Be Read" pile. I can't get enough of the narrative nonfiction crime "novel."
Here are some of my other favorites. I can't recommend them enough.
1) THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson
Set during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, this book intertwines the stories of two men, Daniel H. Burman, the architect of the wildly popular fair, and Dr. D.H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who uses the fair as a means to lure his victims into his boarding house.
2) THUNDERSTRUCK by Erik Larson
Set during the turn-of-the century, it follows the stories of Guglielmo Marconi and the laying of the transatlantic cable and Hawley Crippen, a mild-mannered but deeply troubled homeopathic American doctor living in London. Their tales connect when a the new technology helps to apprehend him in a transatlantic chase.
3) UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer
So facsinated was I by this book, I couldn't read it fast enough. In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murder the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother, Allen. The two claim they were acting under the direct orders of God. What began for Krakauer as a look into the murders themselves, became an exploration into the violent origins of the Mormon faith and Mormon fundamentalism, polygamy, and the call to a so-called righteous life.
4) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by Jon Berendt
If you've never wanted to visit Savannah, Georgia, you certainly will after you read this book. When Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute, is killed by Jim Williams, a respected Savannah antique dealer. Whether it was pre-meditated murder or self-defense during a lover's quarrel was the subject of four trials, the final of which resulted in an acquittal for Williams. The killing, however, is simply a backdrop for a character study of some of the more eccentric inhabitants of Savannah, as well as the city itself.
If you're looking for last minute Christmas gifts, you can't go wrong with any of these books.
If you're buying books as gifts this holiday season, please consider purchasing from your local independent bookshop. The level of customer service you'll receive is unmatched, you'll have the added benefit of making new friends of the staff, and you'll help support a local business.
Some of the books featured in this post can be purchased from the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles (firstname.lastname@example.org).