Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee

by Casey Cep

Hardcover, 2019




Knopf (2019), Edition: 1st, 336 pages


"'A triumph on every level. One of the losses to literature is that Harper Lee never found a way to tell a gothic true-crime story she'd spent years researching. Casey Cep has excavated this mesmerizing story and tells it with grace and insight and a fierce fidelity to the truth.'--David Grann, best-selling author of Killers of the Flower Moon 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 nearly inconceivable 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"--… (more)

Media reviews

She explains as well as it is likely ever to be explained why Lee went silent after “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (The clue’s in Cep’s title.) And it’s here, in her descriptions of another writer’s failure to write, that her book makes a magical little leap, and it goes from being a superbly
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written true-crime story to the sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write.
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1 more
Lee spent many years working on the project, but it never saw the light of day. Instead, more than four decades later, we have Cep’s absorbing new volume, which succeeds in telling the story that Nelle Harper Lee could not and offers an affecting account of Lee’s attempt to give meaning to a
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startling series of events.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Part true crime, part social history, part biography, this was simply an excellent, engrossing non-fiction read. In June of 1977, in a small town in Alabama, during the funeral of a 16-year-old murder victim, one black man pulled out a pistol and shot another 3 times in the face, in full view of
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more than 200 witnesses. The dead man, the Reverend Willie Maxwell, was suspected of being the girl's killer, as he had previously been suspected in the deaths of two of his wives, one of his brothers, a nephew, and the disabled husband of the woman who later became his second wife. Maxwell had been tried and acquitted of the bludgeoning death of his first wife, but despite the best efforts of law enforcement, there was not sufficient evidence to bring charges against him in any of the other cases. Two of the "victims" were buried without a definite cause of death having been determined. Willie Maxwell had taken out multiple life insurance policies on each of the decedents. When Robert Burns came to trial for publicly murdering Maxwell, he was defended by the attorney who had won Maxwell's acquittal and successfully overcome several insurance companies' challenges to paying out on those polices. The story of Burns' trial, and the events leading up to it, occupied Harper Lee for many years. After struggling with a second novel in the wake of the phenomenal success of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee was frustrated, depressed, occasionally drunkenly ill-behaved. She jumped at a chance to help her life-long friend Truman Capote research what he later called his "non-fiction novel" about the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas, but she was disappointed in the book Capote ultimately published, which was not the factual journalistic narrative she thought she was helping to create. When the Burns/Maxwell case came to her attention after more unproductive writing years, she looked upon it as an opportunity to do the kind of in-depth true crime reporting that Capote had failed to deliver. Lee tried---she attended the trial, paid for a full copy of the transcript, spent months interviewing anyone who would talk to her about the Reverend and his alleged victims; became friendly with attorneys, journalists and judges, even gained unlimited access to Atty. Tom Radney's full files on his erstwhile client (material that was still in her possession at the time of her death). But the book simply would not come together. The Furious Hours is not only the account of Lee's ultimately abandoned efforts to make it do so, but the fullest version possible of the story she was trying to tell. Praised by both David Grann and Helen MacDonald, two mighty fine narrative non-fiction writers, this book belongs on the high shelf next to their best works. I hope Cep does not succumb to the same curse as Harper Lee, because I really want to read more of her writing.
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Furious Hours reads like the Reader's Digest condensed version of two biographies, Reverend Willie Maxwell, a notorious serial killer and insurance fraudster from Alabama, and Harper Lee's life after Mockingbird. The subjects should work together - the life and crimes of Maxwell were supposed to be
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Lee's much anticipated second book - but they never really gelled for me. I wanted to read this to learn more about Harper Lee, of course, but the account of Maxwell blatantly killing off his relatives after taking out life insurance policies on them and getting away with murder after murder until a man named Burns turned the tables and shot him in the head was far more interesting than Lee remaining a one-hit wonder. Casey Cep also throws in Lee assisting Truman Capote with his research for In Cold Blood, but even that's old news.

I wish that The Reverend had become Lee's longed for second work, because she invested months of research into her own 'true crime' study, which would have been far more accurate than Capote's version of the Clutter murders, and her fans would have been spared the dubious publication of Watchman - as Cep writes, 'If it were just a matter of getting another book out the door, after all, she could have handed over Go Set A Watchman, which was sitting in her family's safety deposit box at the Monroe County Bank' - but Harper Lee was obviously daunted by the task of writing about an African American murderer escaping justice at the hands of a white lawyer, only for his killer to be defended by that same lawyer! Lee could have had another bestseller under her belt, but for whatever reasons, whether lack of confidence or overabundance of alcohol, we will never get to read a second original work of genius by the author of Mockingbird.

Recommended, but borrow don't buy.
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LibraryThing member Nialle
BUT DIDN'T YOU THINK THAT BIG TOM WAS MAYBE just a little too close to what Atticus Finch WASN'T?!

So much research and apparently sound reporting, some interesting thoughts about the horns of post-Mockingbird Lee's dilemmas, the problems of nonfiction novels and their value, and what Lee might have
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drawn into a book about Willie Maxwell.

And yet the author failed to compare Lee's fairly well documented feelings about the Atticus of Watchman and the attorneys in Mockingbird to the - let's be frank - weird choices on Tom Radney's part to aid in the insurance claims of Rev. Maxwell under repeatedly underinvestigated circumstances, and for (the one bit of information left out of the book) what fee?

If the author is going to hypothesize that what Lee put together was that Willie Maxwell killed five people to stay ahead of debt, should we not ask whether Radney was working on contingency or hourly, and if he charged the same to other clients - white ones?

I have no opinion, and certainly no information, with which to impugn the late Mr. Radney. My questions concern the possibility that, in the end, it was Harper Lee's loyalty to her friend Capote that prevented her from questioning publicly what he did with "In Cold Blood", and so it is not impossible to suggest that if Lee could not complete a telling of the Maxwell story without exposing to scrutiny and possibly scandal a man who would inevitably be compared with her father and with Atticus Finch, she chose not to tell.

Nelle Lee was a good journalist, yes, but she was a lawyer's child, a lawyer's sibling, and nearly a lawyer herself. Why ever would she tell what would harm anyone near her, especially father, sister, and famous character? And why wouldn't she use a humdinger of a diversion like the Maxwell case to hide the fact that she just wasn't writing anything else, as long as it never forced any broken confidences?
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LibraryThing member marquis784
Book title is misleading.
As much as I was fascinated with the history and accounts of Nelle Harper Lee and Rev Willie Maxwell, the title is a bit misleading. The first half of the book is dedicated to the the life and death of Rev Maxwell and the second half related to Ms Lee’s life and death.
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It did provide interesting insight into the author’s rigid perfectionist personality which greatly affected her writing career. I found her relationship with Truman Capote for most of her life fascinating and her contribution to his successful writing career. The author then explains Lee and her struggles to write about the Maxwell murders. The stories seems disjointed and and tangential in its flow not not what I expected based on the title.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
This was partially a biography of Harper Lee’s life in the years after the publication of her only novel, not counting one that was published after her death and without her approval or even knowledge. The first part of this book was the story of the Rev. Willie Maxwell, a man who was in the
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habit of purchasing insurance policies for his wives (two), his brother, his daughter, well just about any relation, who then mysteriously would be found dead and the Reverend would proceed to collect on the insurance policies that he purchased and was the beneficiary of. He was never convicted of any of the murders.

After assisting Truman Capote with the investigation that led to his publication of [In Cold Blood], Lee decided that she wanted to write a true crime book and since the Reverend Willie Smith’s alleged crimes occurred in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, Lee decided this was the book she wanted to write. For years she worked on a manuscript but never produced a book.
Lee’s life at this time is fairly well documented. She was living in New York City for much of this time and agonized over the fact that years and years had passed and she didn’t have another book to show for it. Publishers rejected her earlier book, [Go Tell the Watchman] and she was convinced that it wasn’t very good at all so it remained in a safe, hidden away. In the meantime, she was drinking heavily and maintaining a very private life while she tried to come up with a book about the Rev. Maxwell.

This book was excellent as an audio book and I was fascinated by the details about Lee’s life (3,000 books on the shelves of her small NY apartment!). Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member JosephKing6602
Nice of history & biography; recommended for any fan of capote and harper lee!
LibraryThing member loraineo
I read a lot of true crime and this book is one of my favorites. I hope Ms. Cep continues to write more books. Her writing style is great!
LibraryThing member FormerEnglishTeacher
I am a retired English teacher who taught Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for most of my 40 years in the classroom. I’ve read everything there is to read about Lee, and it isn’t much, but I still learned new things about her from this book. Cep’s first book is really two books in one.
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The first book is about serial killer the Reverend Willie Maxwell. The second book is about Lee’s connection to this case and her apparent intention to write a book about it much like the one her good friend Truman Capote wrote with In Cold Blood. Lee’s book, however, was never written, and that is part of the mystery of Furious Hours. When Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s only published work besides TKAM, was announced in the winter of 2010, the folks who had lived through Willie Maxwell’s trail of terror who knew Nelle Harper Lee had been in their town for the last trial related to Maxwell, assumed that their story would be the next Mockingbird. But it wasn’t to be. The Reverend, the working title Lee gave the book, never happened, and Cep attempts to shed some light on why. I truly enjoyed this book, although I’m not sure Cep’s editor did her any favors with the arrangement of the material. The writing is absolutely wonderful, so I don’t fault Cep. It’s just that the effort to meld these two stories seems a bit clunky to me. I heard an interview with Cep where she seemed to indicate that she wasn’t completely comfortable with how the book was laid out. Nonetheless, Furious Hours, like To Kill a Mockingbird, is an impressive debut for Casey Cep.
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LibraryThing member jfe16
The murder, or, in this case, murders, are detailed in “The Reverend,” the first part of this absorbing book. Here readers meet rural Alabama preacher Reverend Willie Maxwell, a man with a predilection for taking out life insurance policies and a proclivity for having his wives die under
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mysterious circumstances.

Part Two details “The Lawyer,” looking at the legal successes and political ambitions of Tom Radney, the lawyer who successfully represents Maxwell against murder charges and helps in securing payments for him from several life insurance companies. When suspicion falls on Maxwell for the death of his adopted daughter, sixteen-year-old Shirley Ann Ellington, Robert Lewis Burns takes matters into his own hands, shooting and killing the reverend at the conclusion of the young girl’s funeral service.

Part Three, “The Writer,” looks at Harper Lee, the stunning success of the iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird,” her struggle to write a second book, and her determination to write “The Reverend,” a true crime story about Reverend Willie Maxwell.

Well-researched, detailed, and meticulous in its reporting, “Furious Hours” details the strange case of Willie Maxwell, but it’s as much about that case as it is about the elusiveness of justice, about truth, and about the unique cultural and political climate of the south. But, most importantly, it’s about the quest of a beloved author to tell that story. Laying bare the writers’ struggles and the costs paid in service to that craft, it is intriguing, compelling, and heartrending. Readers will find it difficult to set this book aside before turning the final page. This is one book that belongs on everyone’s must-read list.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
Casey Cep's Furious Hours is an ambitious book with three different narrative threads: the first one is about an Alabama reverend who knocks off members of his own family for insurance money; the second tells the story of the lawyer and failed politician who defended the reverend as well as the man
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who finally killed him; and the third is an examination of Harper Lee's inability to write the reverend's tale as a follow up to her bestselling novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

With its combination of true crime and literary heft, this book sounded like it would be right up my alley, but I found the proceedings less engaging than advertised. I didn't find the reverend or his lawyer all that interesting, and there is a lot of extraneous detail (the history of life insurance, for example), that didn't need to be there. Only when the narrative turned to Harper Lee's struggles with writing her second book did the story really speak to me. This book could have been a literary page-turner, but it was not.
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LibraryThing member EdGoldberg
The Reverend Willie Maxwell was thought to have murdered at least five family members to collectthousands of dollars of life insurance on the victims. That is until one day, Robert Burns shot him in cold blood at the funeral of Maxwell's daughter. He, however never got convicted of a crime.

Big Tom
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Radley, Maxwell's long time attorney, agreed to represent Burns in what appeared to be an open and shut case with a verdict of murder. However, Radley's defense of not guilty by reason of insanity, won over the jury and they released that verdict. Burns was remanded to a psychiatric hospital and was released in several weeks, being declared sane.

This case caught the eye and attention of Harper Lee who had, at that point, not written a second novel. She, the daughter of an attorney and a frequent spectator to courtroom goings on, did a lot of research, at one point declaring that she knew more about Maxwell and the murder trial than anyone else, in order to write a book...which never came to fruition.

Author Casey Cep , in three parts, gives us a summary of Maxwell's doings, his murder by Burns and the subsequent trial and finally about Harper Lee's life, her research into the case and the non-existent second book. All three sections were interesting and shed new light (for me) on Lee and her life.

A east but not so fast read, but well worth the time.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
Most readers know that Harper Lee only wrote one book, the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and that she suffered from a complicated kind of writer’s block for the rest of her life. That the rather infamous Go Set a Watchman was published in July 2015 really doesn’t change that fact, because
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Watchman is really nothing more than Lee’s failed first attempt at having a novel published. She was asked to re-write Watchman from the point of view of a Scout as a child and to limit the book’s plot to an incident from the 1930s. She did so, and the rest is history. So, Go Set a Watchman is just the failed first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, and I wish it had never been published. And considering the state of her health in 2015, I have to wonder if Lee truly realized what publishing that failed manuscript really mean to her legacy– or if she even realized it was being published at all.

But the bigger question is why Harper Lee was never able to complete another book. What was she doing all those years between the immediate explosion of Mockingbird and her death? Casey Cep’s Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee provides some of the answers to that literary mystery.

Furious Hours is really three books in one. The first half of the book details the life and crimes of one Reverend Willie Maxwell, a preacher in rural Alabama who in the 1970s was accused of murdering five members of his family in order to cash in on the numerous life insurance policies he had purchased on their lives. There is little doubt that Maxwell was a serial murderer, but authorities were never able to collect enough evidence to convict him of any of his crimes. Maxwell, however, did not get away with murder. Instead, he was himself shot at pointblank range while attending services for one of his own victims. The resulting trial of Maxwell’s killer was sensational enough that it caught the attention of Harper Lee, and she traveled from her New York City apartment back to Alabama to see what would happen. She believed that she had finally found her next book, and she was hoping that it would be as big as Truman Capote’s in Cold Blood, a book for which she was largely responsible.

Most of the second half of Furious Hours is a concise Harper Lee biography. But it is the kind of biography that seeks to understand its subject’s mental state as much as the simple facts of her life. Harper Lee was a very private person, with a few close friends and colleagues (most of whom never even saw the inside of her apartment in the decades they knew her), and she liked it that way. She refused to talk about To Kill a Mockingbird or what she was currently working on, and even the neighbors who lived on the same apartment building floor as her for years had no idea that she was a world-famous author. She was also a woman who drank to excess (whether this was a cause or an effect of her writer’s block is debatable) and suffered from depression to the extent that her friends and her two sisters worried greatly about her state of mind. According to Casey Cep, “after three dark decades” Lee’s life finally took a turn for the better when she finally admitted to herself that she would never finish the book about the Maxwell murders – or any other book. The relief she felt was obvious to those around her and it showed in her correspondence.

The final chapter of Furious Hours, titled “The Long Good-Bye,” comprises what I consider to be the book’s third distinct section. This is an accounting of Harper Lee’s final years, including what her life was like after her March 2007 stroke, and it includes the circumstances surrounding publication of the infamous Go Set a Watchman manuscript that in so many ways would have been better off never seeing the light of day.

Bottom Line: Furious Hours is a worthy addition to the study of Harper Lee and her work, and it helps explain why she never completed another book after the overwhelming success she experienced with To Kill a Mockingbird. True crime fans will be intrigued by the utter audacity of a killer like Willie Maxwell, but readers wanting to learn more about why Harper Lee seemed to shut down after Mockingbird are going to find a goldmine here.
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LibraryThing member techeditor
Did Casey Cep do in FURIOUS HOURS what Harper Lee could not? You could say that, but Cep doesn’t really. She does more.

Lee was Truman Capote‘s assistant when he gathered material for his book IN COLD BLOOD. So, after she had such success with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, she thought she could
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successfully write narrative nonfiction, too.

The perfect case presented itself, Lee thought, with the Reverend Willie Maxwell. He was accused of murdering five people for insurance money.

Cep divides this book into three parts. Each part tells a separate story, one for Maxwell; another for Tom Radney, the lawyer who represented Maxwell; and another for Harper Lee.

Probably because she could find so little biographical material on Maxwell, Cep goes into too much detail with her history lessons in the first part. So she almost lost me.

She does better with the second part, where it is obvious that she likes Radney and his family very much. But maybe that is why she does not adequately explain why, after representing Maxwell, Radney then represents his murderer, except to say that everyone is entitled to a defense.

Lee's part is obviously why FURIOUS HOURS is so highly rated. Here Cep presents a biography of Lee and tries to figure her out. Through extensive research, Cep gives several probable reasons that Lee never wrote another book after MOCKINGBIRD, and most particularly why she never wrote her book on Maxwell.

Lee could not figure out how to tell Maxwell‘s story in a way that would capture a reader as fiction does. Cep does present his story, but she does not seem to be so concerned about capturing the reader as she does with ensuring that everything is factual.
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LibraryThing member hobbitprincess
I enjoyed reading about an interesting and bizarre case that Harper Lee was considering writing about. The book covers a lot about her life and the lives of the others directly related to the case. There was some tedious, repetitive reading towards the very end, but it didn't detract from the book
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that much.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
Casey Cep knows how to write history and the work she did to produce this amazing book was incredible. No, it's not a novel but she actually tells the story that Harper Lee was trying to write----and so successfully! Although it was fascinating to see what she discovered about Harper Lee's life
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after To Kill A Mockingbird---I found myself somewhat disappointed. One book sort of finished her off, in a sense. She comes across as a rather amazing person to meet and talk with---everyone seemed to love her but somehow she apparently was unable to ever accept herself. Perfectionism is a self-crushing standard to live up to.
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LibraryThing member sharonstern
This is an impressive first book. It's exhaustively researched, and has a complex structure, as Cep is really telling two or three stories here. Still, I'm not sure it's the best structure for the material. Harper Lee doesn't make an appearance until the book's halfway mark, and everything leading
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up to that point feels like preliminaries.

I imagine that a nuanced portrayal of what it was like for the black Alabamians living in a community with an openly practicing serial killer enabled by a politically connected white lawyer, could be a book in itself. Cep chooses not to dive deep into communal dynamics here; while she notes that people were scared of Willie Maxwell and discuses the rumors of voodoo that swirled around him, she's mostly concerned with what happened when. Especially disturbing, she reports the lawyer's account of his role -- he received 50% of the money Maxwell collected from insurance policies he held on his victims -- largely without question.

The book picks up once its focus shifts to Harper Lee. How could it not? Witty, smart, charming, perfectionist, swimming in alcohol, channeling her considerable literary skills into correspondence while avoiding her second novel, here is the presence that made "To Kill a Mockingbird" speak to so many. A determinedly private person who outlived her closest circle, Lee is hard to dig into, and Cep is as hampered by the lack of primary sources as any biographer would be. Still, she offers a thoughtful analysis of why Lee couldn't finish her book on Maxwell, or any other book. Her description of the collaboration between Lee, her publisher and her agent that transformed "Go Set a Watchman" into "To Kill a Mockingbird" is particularly illuminating.

At one point Cep quotes Lee's assessment of Willie Maxwell: "He might not have believed what he preached, he might not have believed in voodoo, but he had a profound and abiding belief in life insurance." There's so much contained in that wry statement; reading it made me feel like Cep's account was ultimately lacking in some human element. A welter of details, meticulously reported, the book is admirable, but I didn't particularly enjoy reading it.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
I was captivated by this book! It's essentially three mini-biographies tied together with a common thread and the story is stranger than fiction. Furious Hours tells the story of a black southern preacher who had a bad habit of buying life insurance policies on friends and family members who would
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then "mysteriously die." Even though everyone knows he was responsible, he was a slippery man and the law couldn't seem to get any charges to stick. At the funeral of an adopted daughter (who "mysteriously died") the reverend was shot to death in front of 300 people. The story then switches gears to cover the story of the lawyer who defended the man who shot the reverend. The final profile in the book is that on Harper Lee, the famed novelist who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee, was fascinated by the case and thought that maybe she would try her hand at true crime writing to get her out of a slump. She spent years covering the reverends case, interviewing the lawyer, townsfolk, family members and more. But what ever became of her manuscript? Compelling and wonderful, this is a must read for fans of southern gothics, Harper Lee, and true crime. Hard to put down!
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
When I started listening to the well-narrated audio version of this book, I was mildly disappointed. It seemed to be all about the murderous “reverend” and his perhaps well-deserved end. The more I got into that story, the more it interested me, but where was Harper Lee? Don't worry, that
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After that first part, the book covers Ms. Lee attending the trial, but also goes into her more personal life. There was a good deal about Truman Capote and In Cold Blood, and Harper Lee's involvement in that book. I read In Cold Blood years ago, and thought it very good until I learned how much of it was pure fiction. Ms. Lee's research into it was not part of that fiction. I think I would not have liked Truman Capote in person. And now I think I would have like Harper (Nell) Lee.

She tried so hard to make sense of the story, but never managed to write the book. Rumors and falsehoods about both the murders and the writing of the potential book were abundant. I feel like I got to know Lee a bit more. Reading the story of this private woman also made me regret having bought Go Set a Watchman when it first came out, because I think a younger Lee, the one who had not yet had a stroke and subsequent effects, would never have agreed to its publication.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
Well researched and captivating, this is a story of a wicked southern "pastor" who had a nasty habit of taking out insurance policies of relatives, and then collecting them when they died. Unfortunately, for the victims, they died unexpectedly and brutally. The trial was attended by Harper Lee who
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thought she might use material as a new book.

After collecting all data, she felt it was not something she wanted to write about. The story then, toward the end of the book is a composite of Harper Lee's years of struggling to write To Kill a Mockingbird, and fast forward to her later years. She did write another book,G And, surely, why should she? Her book could was a one-hit wonder.

Though later, another book titled Go Set a Watchman. However, as she was very forthcoming regarding her inability to write another book, I've always doubted she actually wrote a second book. This is my personal opinion. To Kill a Mockingbird can never be outdone. From the first time I read this in 10th grade English class, it remains my all-time favorite book.

I liked [Furious Hours], but felt that it was filled with way too much rambling and did not seem to have a central theme.
I know I am in the minority, but I simply could not get into this book.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep is an amazing read. First, it starts off with the trial of a man who murdered another man who made his money by taking out insurance policies on people, mostly members of his family, then murdering them and suing the
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insurance companies to force them to pay. Amazing that such a thing could happen. Harper Lee is barely mentioned as the woman who is going to write a book about the case. Then the book goes into a biography of Lee that is just fascinating. I hated Go Set A Watchman and found it hard to believe that the Atticus of the book was the same Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird. Now I understand. The book is worth 5 stars just to get that idea through my thick skull, but the rest of the story earns the stars too. I am so happy I read it.
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LibraryThing member alanteder
The Not-So-Fast and Furious
Review of the William Heinemann (UK) hardcover edition (May 2019)

I was eager enough about the imminent release of Furious Hours back in early May 2019, that I even had it pre-ordered on Audible Audio and listened to it immediately. There are plenty of unknowns about
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Harper Lee and about what else she may have written beyond Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird and Casey Cep's excellent research helps to fill in many of the gaps with the story of the unfinished The Reverend project.

I was happy to receive the additional hardcover edition through Shakespeare and Company's Year of Reading 2019 subscription and enjoyed it just as much.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
She wrote one book, a book that defined a time period. A book that made her wealthy, but took away the privacy she cherished. She became recognizable everywhere, and though writing was her passion, this she little expected. Why did she write only one book, when everyone who knew her said writing
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was her passion, that she was always writing.

The case of the Alabama minister, a man whose nearest and dearest were murdered for their insurance money. He pretty much got away with it, until the last and during that trial something unexpected happened, and the lawyer who defended him now defended so done else. Nell spent too years in Alabama trying to write this story, but eventually she gave up? Why? After two years?

The book is divided into three sections, the minister snd his heinous activities first, the lawyer next. Nell doesn't appear until halfway through the book. Having never read a biography of Harper Lee, there were some surprising facts I didn't know. Her and Capote, friend from youth, and their joint venture when Capote wanted to write, In Cold Blood. Seems some of that book was not quite accurate.

A slower read, but I thought one that was fascinating.

ARC from Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Nonfiction at its very best. The book bounces from the murder of an alleged serial killer to the childhood of Truman Capote and Harper Lee. It remains fascinating throughout, especially for those of us interested in Lee’s life. The author’s research provides an in-depth look at Lee‘s life and
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the murder cases, but it never overwhelms the narrative. She uncovers the details of the book Lee attempted to write and presents them with respect and context.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Harper Lee went back home to Alabama to write about the murder of Reverend Willie Maxwell, alleged voodoo priest. Maxwell took out insurance policies on just about every family member he could--sometimes more than one. When they died, he collected the money. People began to get suspicious after it
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happened a few times. Tom Radney who served one term as representative defended the man who killed Maxwell and admitted to killing him. The successful defense involved an insanity plea. Harper Lee's manuscript never saw light of day. The author probably took a few too many "asides," straying from the focus of the book. While these asides give us insight into Harper Lee, they were not completely relevant to the book's subject. I hate silent end notes. Please provide footnotes at the bottom of the page or at least make the reader aware end notes exist.
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LibraryThing member ecw0647
Why would anyone live in Alabama? The political, cultural, and social history of Alabama during the George ("I will never be out-niggered again") Wallace years is on stark display in this fascinating book by Casey Cep.

Before getting to the actual trial and relating it to the book that Harper Lee
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wanted to write, Cep delves into the lives of the three main characters: Maxwell, the serial killing reverend who killed multiple wives and others for their insurance; Maxwell's killer who shot him in front of 300 witnesses; and Tom Radney, as very likeable man who defended Lee and who had been physically threatened, his family terrorized, and his homes and possessions vandalized because, as state senator, he had supported Ted Kennedy's nomination to run for president the year that George Wallace run as an independent. And Harper Lee's peripheral link to the trial.

The insanity defense has a long history. It was even written into the Code of Hammurabi more than 3000 years ago. By the early 20th century it had fallen out of favor, seemingly allowing murderers to get away with murder and it had been outlawed in several states, but not Alabama. It was the only defense left to the defense. Burns had shot Maxwell from three feet away in front of 300 people and had confessed at least twice.

It's not your typical murder mystery or courtroom drama, Lee, a close friend and colleague of Truman Capote, sat in on the trial in Alexander City taking notes. Lee struggled to write a book about the trial, apparently worried it would never live up to her famous first book. She had been closely involved with Capote as his friend and research assistant in the writing of In Cold Blood , but she never wanted to be associated with the "new journalism" epitomized by Capote, Mailer, and Talese.

The section on Lee is a letdown. The reader keeps waiting for more on the book that never got written. Not to mention the debacle over Go Tell a Watchman. The writing is very good, if sometimes impenetrable, e.g. "her letters, which had at one time been Pentatuchal in plot and Pauline in syntax...."
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Audie Award (Finalist — History/Biography — 2020)
Agatha Award (Nominee — Non-Fiction — 2019)


Original language



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