I know it seems redundant to review In Cold Blood 54 years after it’s been published. The Withering Heights of true crime books, everyone has most likely heard about it by now though there are many who have yet to read it. I believe everyone should crack it open at least once. It’s largely credited as being the founder of the true-crime genre, making it a classic and one of the pioneers of literature, although I am not one to praise any novel just because it has the word “classic” attached to it. I think people should know more about it other than its status.
Truman Capote changed the literary world forever when he published In Cold Blood in 1966. It details the murders of the Clutter family in 1959 in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas. The four victims, Herbert Clutter, his wife Bonnie, and their two youngest children, Kenyon and Nancy were found dead in their house one morning with no obvious signs of robbery or any clue as to who did it. There seemed to be no motive.
In Cold Blood shares the last few hours of their lives before it gets into what the story is really about: the two deeply disturbed men responsible, and honestly…I expected something more. With the kind of reputation that this book has I expected something other than what felt like a two-hour special of Criminal Minds. I know In Cold Blood is more or less the first of it’s kind, so when compared to more recent true crime wonders like Helter Skelter, Devil in the White City and Columbine, it’s a slight let down. But read without expectations, and it is a phenomenal piece of true crime literature.
Hickock and Smith
Perry Smith and Richard “Dick” Hickock are the murderers of this story and one doesn’t have to be there with Capote to know that he had conflicting feelings about them. The beginning of the novel talks much about the Clutter family. Enough to make readers mourn their deaths when it happens but much like how they died, the Clutter’s cease to exist once their hearts all stop beating. Capote drops them as if they never existed, further enforcing the “in cold blood” feeling the crime created when it first happened.
A crime of seemingly random chance. It’s that randomness that truly fascinated the public. “Of all the people in all the world, the Clutters were the least likely to be murdered.”
There are really two narratives in the novel. The confusion of the crime itself and that of Perry Smith. There’s a whole story about the creation of In Cold Blood that claimed Truman Capote became very attached to Smith while interviewing him. Almost too attached some might say, and the novel pretty much confirms this. The amount of time Capote spends on Smith is astounding, even the worst bits are spun in a sympathetic light. He spends pages and pages detailing Smith’s childhood, personality, and motivations while hardly a few paragraphs are saved for Hickock. (Not that I blame him because Dick was truly a dick.)
Make up your mind Capote
By focusing on Smith and his dark, damaged mind, it keeps the shock and pointlessness of the crime front and center. If Capote focused more Hickock it would have taken an entirely different perspective. Smith was harder to pin down and apparently had the capability to do good, which in fact was the alleged point of In Cold Blood. Capote was supposedly trying to humanize the Clutter’s killers, but in all honestly, the novel jumps around too much to make it believable.
Capote added in details that were unnecessary and then dropped them just as quickly. He goes too deep into trivial facts and not deep enough into important ones. He shows so much of Smith’s upbringing, painting him as a victim of his own mind and society, but then throws in a detail that disregards all of that. Then there’s the story of Hickock, the one who instigated the crime in the first place, who Capote doesn’t even try to reform in the reader’s eyes. (Again, I don’t blame him). A psychopathic pedophile rapist who admits that he only robbed the Clutters because he wanted to rape 16-year-old Nancy. (He never did by the way. Smith stopped him before he got the chance.)
Jammed back race to the finish line
The final section of the novel is where it struggles to stay afloat. Smith and Hickock are arrested and sentenced to death but Capote doesn’t stop it there. He doesn’t even skip ahead and show their execution. No. He spends several pages discussing their eventless life on death row. He even goes as far as to introduce some of their neighboring murderers and their life stories. Lowell Lee Andrews a.k.a. “The Nicest Boy in Wolcott” and spree killer buddies George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham. They appear in the final section of In Cold Blood and stick around as if they had been there the whole time. All the while, Smith and Hickock go on, unconcerned about their approaching death date.
I was honestly expecting something more chilling than what I got. Over the years, I’ve heard many rant and rave over the sheer cold brutality featured in Capote’s novel, the stuff of nightmares. Maybe it’s because I grew up obsessing over serial killers and read too many books detailing their twisted crimes but what was featured In Cold Blood feels like a combination of attempted psychology and point-by-point descriptions of true-life events but not enough of either. There is also an incredibly long section that deals strictly with their trial that feels a bit redundant. It’s used to include the public perception of them, their reactions to the public, their confessions, and their psyche evaluations but Capote crams everything together as if he was rushing to the finish line.
The true strength of In Cold Blood lies in its style. A true crime book that’s written in the form of a novel starting with a prologue, withholding the gory details until the very end, and ending with two men hanging from the gallows. Despite my complaints, it’s very good.(3.5 / 5)
Blood Meridian, a Book Review
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, (1985) is a Western (or Anti-Western) epic novel by Cormac McCarthy. This review discusses the digital copy of the First Vintage International Edition.
The kid wanders the West as a survivor and thug. After getting caught up with the ominous Judge Holden, his life remains forever entwined with the cruel force of the man. The kid becomes a soldier, a scalper, and an outlaw but always finds Judge Holden somewhere in the distance. Civilization approaches the untamable West, which forces the kid adapt or die. But it is Judge Holden who remains: an unchanging force of cruelty.
What I Liked
Cormac McCarthy remains one of the most brutal authors, both in narrative and writing. You will feel the danger of the West, its inhuman cruelty, and fear for the kid. Many often call Blood Meridian McCathy’s magnum opus. As a result, if this brutal novel satisfies your readerly tastes, you’ll have his entire collection to sample.
Judge Holden remains a true force of evil and cruelty masked in human form. McCarthy likes to represent forces of nature through his antagonists. Judge Holden doesn’t always directly antagonize, but his role becomes increasingly clear as the novel continues.
Few authors convey cruelty like Cormac McCarthy, who structures his writing so that sentences bleed into each other in frantic syntax. I mean this somewhat literally as he removes quotation marks in dialogue or creates blunt sentences to reflect the mood he wants to display.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Era-appropriate (using “appropriate” loosely here) racism encompasses this novel in a rather uncomfortable and upsetting way. We are dealing with the West, where scalping earned payment and slavery was a debatable issue. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from this reality. It also should be noted that some characters thrive in such industries. This reality certainly doesn’t make the reading any less harsh.
There is graphic violence and cruelty in every chapter, altogether influencing nearly every page. It will be a hard read for those sensitive to any kind of abuse, because all kinds appear in this novel. Few horrors depict the cruelty of man like a Cormac McCarthy novel, and Blood Meridian is no exception. In fact, it might be the leading example.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
McCarthy provides brutal and challenging prose. Blood Meridian is more accessible than many of his other novels; regardless, it still provides a difficult reading experience for those unaccustomed to his style. After the first two chapters, you’ll grow accustomed to the style, or it might be a skip. I say the first two as Chapter 1 runs through the boy’s life to the point of his adventure, which might be its own sore spot for some readers.
Don’t expect realism in the novel. As mentioned, McCarthy favors villains that represent a force of nature. This stylistic choice often makes his characters, largely the antagonists, superhuman forces.
Following down this criticism, or consideration, also extends to realism holistically. McCarthy brings life to his interpretation of the West, the States, and Mexico. Don’t expect accurate descriptions of locations or historical events. I didn’t note many historical inaccuracies, however I’m also not versed in that era.
Blood Meridian deconstructs the pop-culture West, lingering on the horrors of the era and the indifference of the West. Expect the psychological nature of man to be the center of its haunting.
Cormac McCarthy earns his reputation as one of the great living American authors, and Blood Meridian remains one of his most haunting novels to date. Few authors dare to display the cruelty of man, producing emotional truth and horrid images that can twist a reader’s stomach. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian dares all that and more.
(4 / 5)
A Pilgrimage of Swords, a Book Review
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan.
A Pilgrimage of Swords (2019) is the first novel of a grimdark fantasy series (The Seven Swords) authored by Anthony Ryan. The book is technically a novella, running slightly short of a novel-length, but reads like a collection of short stories. This review will cover Subterranean Press’ digital copy of the novella.
Desperate to change his fate, Pilgrim forfeits his name on his quest to meet a mad god. He and his fellow pilgrims travel a dangerous road filled with abominations and horrors in the desperate hope that they might have one prayer answered. With a twisted sentient sword, he fights his darkness and the God’s abominations in the hopes of something better.
What I Liked
As mentioned, this novella reads like a collection of short stories. Each story tackles a specific challenge and region. The strategy works well in building the torment of the journey and keeping the reader consistently engaged.
A voice plagues Pilgrim, constantly antagonizing him at every step of their journey. The style in which this “voice” delivers their intrusive thoughts, while not inherently unique, remains an enjoyable and satisfying read. The voice itself becomes a favored character of mine. Pilgrim and “voice” share a dynamic of brooding hero and antagonizer. Again, not unique, but done with great effect.
Despite the tight word count, several twists effectively engage the reader, helping to add to the world that we only get a glimpse of.
While the supporting cast doesn’t have as much time dedicated to them, they collectively add to the experience with unique perspectives and dynamics.
In terms of horror, the final chapter provides the most stunning examples. This review is spoiler-free, but the build-up certainly exceeds expectations for the first read.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
A Pilgrimage of Swords resides on the lighter side of grimdark high fantasy, but it remains grimdark. The world of A Pilgrimage of Swords is uncaring and cruel, producing characters that reflect that, functioning as opportunists.
Animals do die, and children are equally prone to potential death. Again, not entirely out of character for the setting, but it should be mentioned for readerly consideration.
As the description might indicate, torment and suffering are recurring motifs in the story. While the tortures certainly are sadistic, readers get the aftermath. The novel doesn’t linger in its sadism.
What I Dislike, or Food for Thought
As A Pilgrimage of Swords is a high fantasy novel with light grimdark elements, the horror reflects that concept. There are tense moments, and characters are prone to danger, but genuine horror remains lacking. The novel doesn’t claim itself as such, but our audience should consider this. However, walking gods of madness twisting their environment to reflect their psyche shouldn’t be ridden off too quickly.
While I mostly enjoy the brevity of the story and how the chapters read like short stories, it limits the time we have to invest in the characters and setting. This novel is the first of a continuing series, so this criticism doesn’t inherently apply to the other novels. This first introduction remains easy to recommend for those looking for a quick read, not a long investment.
Many plot beats are predictable and can somewhat underwhelm a reader when the obvious thing happens. I will admit that this isn’t too often a hindrance but compromises to accommodate the tighter word count. Luckily, there are plot twists to minimize this underwhelming predictability, but the chapters could still utilize an extended word count.
The name doesn’t exactly fit this first entry of the series. It might be a perfect name for the series, but this novel’s pilgrimage has little to do with swords.
A Pilgrimage of Swords has a few haunting moments but is an otherwise enjoyable and quick read. If a grimdark set in a high fantasy where cruel gods walk the earth sounds like an interest of yours, this will certainly satisfy that itch. While it remains a little too brief, this is by design and part of a larger narrative.
(4 / 5)
Horror in graphic novels
Creepy Comics Collages by Jennifer Weigel, Part 5
Well, you won’t get rid of me that easily… Ha ha, I lied about coming to the end and the afterlife in the Creepy Comics Collages segment, it was just an opportunity for rebirth. Besides, it’s World Collage Day! So having come into another comic book to rework, here we go again…
Creepy Comics Story 9: The Voice (of God or Reason or perhaps an homage to my ex)
“Come to me my children, the voice of God awaits!… Don’t let them escape!” Please beam me up out of this weird comic collage alternate reality. “God I am your hand! Lift me… to your place. I commend my spirit!” I want to go back to dreaming about starfish.
The computer programmer behind the scenes turns to face us and smiles. “Guardians! This is a place of God!… Come to the true voice of God!” “I am everything.” “Come to the voice!” And the horrific AI generated creatures abide by his every coded word.
Just like last night in the — signs posted for Nightmare, No Exit. The deer spirit faun screams in surprise, “Eeek!” “No! I defy you!” She returns to the form of a little girl with arms outspread to the open sky. “Y’know, a day like today makes all the stuff that happened last night seem just like a bad dream!” The dream seems so real…
Somewhere in the city, the computer programmer sits up at night in pensive monologue, “You try to make a difference… But it doesn’t really matter.”
Creepy Comics Story 10: The City (Metropolis becomes self-aware)
This segment is brought to you by Dead Artists and Talking Dinosaurs. No really, wait for it…
Woooooo Uhhhh Wooooooo Uhhhh… Wump! Uff! Wump! Uff! “She belongs to The City!” The Glenn Fry 1985 hit single looms ominously overhead as Metropolis becomes self-aware. “The City… will live!… The City… will breathe!” The City gasps for air, “Got to… breathe!… Got to… Breathe!“
Her breath is the wind… Her eyes are windows. Her heart pumps fluid through buried plumbing… “I’m The City!” Her mind is The City!
And we have a celebrity appearance by Rich Koz “Son of Svengoolie” WFLD 1973: “I take a nap for 10,000 years and look what happens… some-body builds a city!” Kerwyn chimes in, “Geez! Somebody’s been busy!” And we cut out to a scene of Svengoolie standing alongside his coffin.
Well, that’s all folks. Or is it? For now, any way… until I get more comic books… Duh duh DUHHHH…
If you want to see more art, check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.