The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.
Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.
Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case.
Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Random House for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.
This book was absolutely fascinating! I would recommend it to anyone. If you have fond memories of reading Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird as a child or are looking to read classics this year, be sure to put this one on your TBR. It’s also a type of story within a story about a story whose final works (those being Harper Lee’s) were never published in which readers of true crime/thrillers will appreciate.
Furious Hours made full circle as it encompassed the published/unpublished works and the personal and literary life of author Harper Lee. As the first chapters unfolded into a compelling story of the accused Reverend Maxwell, I gained incredible insight into the norms of Southern living as well as the cultural and political climate of the times. From the perceptive value of the aesthetic and functional features of the Alabama courthouses to the practice of law itself, the intriguing writing style kept my full attention.
The author, Casey Cep, did an amazing job articulating and organizing the depth and reach of Harper Lee in a way that was captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about influential circumstances and notable people who crossed paths with Harper Lee, including Truman Capote. All these details added so much biographical context to how Harper Lee lived her life, the choices she made, and how it shaped her writing as an author. This is one book you won’t want to put down!