This is a step by step account of a true life murder of 4 people in a farming family by two young men in Kansas in 1959. It deals with the last day of the family, the early stages of the investigation and the flight of the killers, the late stages of the investigation and the capture of the killers, and the trial and execution of the killers. It is incredibly detailed.
All of the characters come across as complex three dimensional people. The overwhelming question is why these two young men killed four people in an attempted robbery that netted them less than eighty dollars. The character of each killer is carefully scrutinised as is the complicated relationship between them. Each is a young man who has been damaged both physically (Perry has has his legs smashed in a motorbike accident; Dick his skull cracked in a car accident) and emotionally (Perry's circus performing parents split up). Perry fantasises about get rich quick schemes, Dick is more manipulative. Although there is a strong flavour of homosexuality between them (eg Dick repeatedly calls Perry 'honey') Perry strongly disapproves of gay sex and Dick enjoys multiple relationships with women, favouring pubescent girls, and could not bear to think of himself as other than 'a normal'. None of which explains the killings but all of which makes one realise that these monsters are as human as anyone else.
I picked out two quotes:
"Nancy Clutter is always in a hurry but she always has time. And that's one definition of a lady." (p23)
"Used to be I could eat anything didn't eat me first" (p279)
This is a classic book: beautifully written; synthesising journalism and the novel; raising fundamental questions about the nature of deviance; psychologically probing what it is that gives us the characters we have. Highly enjoyable.
April 2009, 336 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57