In Cold Blood: No Saints in Kansas

A Girl Detective Takes on a Quadruple Homicide

Just a brief post this week since I went a little off the rails with the long-form blogging last time.

I like Truman Capote’s writing and true-crime stories so much that it’s hard to stop elaborating.

The first In Cold Blood post discussed how the flamboyant Capote created a new literary genre, and last week’s explored his alleged efforts to snuff out a competing manuscript.

Never stop. But when the subject is In Cold Blood, there’s always more.

The tale of the brutal collision between the wholesome Clutter family and two dissolute criminals in Holcomb, Kansas, has been fascinating readers since the book hit the best-seller list in 1966.

Now, Soho Press has a new telling of the story coming out in November.

The novel No Saints in Kansas offers the tale through the eyes of the fictional Carly Fleming, a 15-year-old who recently moved to Kansas.

Carly was just beginning a friendship with Nancy “the town darling” Clutter when the teenager was murdered along with three members of her family on November 15, 1959.

Taking the initiative. In the early days of the investigation, detectives (in real life, too) suspected that Bobby Rupp, Nancy’s boyfriend, was the culprit who tied up, robbed, and shot her and her brother, Kenyon, and their parents, Herb and Bonnie.

Carly, who feels protective of Bobby, launches her own investigation in order to clear his name.

And speaking of going off the rails, Carly sneaks onto the murder scene, barges in on a press conference, and does her own ballistics tests.

She ends up grounded and arrested. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Hometown girl. If all this sounds like a novel for a teen audience, it’s because it is. Soho Press is publishing the book as young adult fiction.

Murderers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. Smith later said that he liked Nancy Clutter and could see she was trying to put him at ease. He shot her anyway.

I enjoyed the telling just the same, especially because author Amy Brashear brings credibility to the characterizations.

Brashear and her family moved to Finney County, Kansas, in 1991, when she was 9.

That’s 33 years after the homicides, but locals hadn’t stopped talking about them, and probably never will.

Lose the halo. The author grew up around people old enough to have known the Clutters personally and still feel the psychic trauma caused by Perry Smith and Richard Hickock’s crime.

I found the novel engaging also because it seems to confirm something that I’ve always suspected: that Nancy Clutter wasn’t quite the perfect human being that Capote portrayed.

(“You’ve idolized that poor dead woman beyond all human recognition,” as Ruth and Augustus Goetz wrote in The Heiress.)

That and other story elements made No Saints in Kansas a nice read.

Nice holiday gift. I caught a couple examples of anachronistic language in No Saints in Kansas. The first known use of “face-plant” was in 1982, according to Webster‘s, and I suspect people didn’t say “sounds like a plan” back in the 1950s.

But it’s not the author’s fault that this reader makes her living by pointing out errors; I’m an editor by day.

Author Amy Brashear

I’d recommend the book for any preteen or young teen reader who likes detective stories and true crime.

It’s a good introduction to a U.S. tragedy that Truman Capote made sure will never become arcane.

That’s all for this post. Until next week, cheers. RR