In Cold Blood, published in 1965, was first serialized in the New Yorker in four installments. It was an instant critical and commercial success, bringing Truman Capote both literary recognition and celebrity status. With its publication, Capote claimed to have invented a new genre, the ''nonfiction novel,'' and critics quickly accepted his classification, his methods, and his purpose as a new combination of journalism and fiction. He wanted to merge the two—enlivening what he saw as stagnant prose conforming to stale, rigid standards—and he wished to experiment with documentary methods. The Clutter murders were the perfect vehicle for this monumental experiment in reportage.
In Cold Blood painstakingly details, in four parts, the Clutter family's character, activities, and community status during the last days before their murder; the planning and machinations of the killers; the investigative dedication of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) agents; and the capture, trial, and execution of the murderers. While the book portrays the Clutters sympathetically, it also concentrates the reader's sympathies on Perry Smith, who, abused and abandoned as a child and scorned as an adult, allegedly commits all four murders. In framing the question of nature versus nurture, Capote's tightly documented, evocatively written account of the Clutter killings asks whether a man alone can be held responsible for his action when his environment has relentlessly neglected him.