Furious Hours

Furious Hours

Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee

Large Print - 2019
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""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"--
"The stunning true story of an Alabama serial killer, and the trial that obsessed the author of To Kill a Mockingbird in the years after the publication of her classic novel--a complicated and difficult time in her life that, until now, has been very little examined. Willie Maxwell was a Baptist reverend in Alabama; he also happened to be a serial killer. Between 1970 and 1977, his two wives and brother all died under suspicious circumstances -- each with hefty life insurance policies taken out by none other than the Reverend himself. With the help of a savvy lawyer, Maxwell escaped justice for years. Then, the teenage daughter of his third wife perished. At the funeral, the victim's uncle shot the Reverend dead in a church full of witnesses--and was subsequently acquitted of the murder, thanks to the same savvy lawyer who had represented the Reverend for all those years. Sitting in the audience during the trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York to her native Alabama with an idea of writing a book about the case. Now, Casey Cep brings this nearly inconceivable, gripping story to life on the page: from the shocking murders to the chicanery of insurance fraud to the courtroom drama. At the same time, it is a vividly told, elegiac account of Harper Lee's quest to write a second book after To Kill a Mockingbird, and a deeply moving portrait of this beloved writer's struggle with fame, success, and the mysteries of artistic creativity"--
Published: New York :, Random House Large Print,, [2019]
Edition: First Large Print Edition.
ISBN: 9781984892232
1984892231
Branch Call Number: 364.1523 CEP
Characteristics: xii, 511 pages (large print), 16 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations, map ;,24 cm
large print., rda

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celiawhite99
May 26, 2021

Interesting true story of Harper Lee and a murder story she researched but never got around to writing the book!

v
Vanessa72
Sep 26, 2020

I liked the first part of the book regarding William (Willie) Maxwell, his life and death. He was undoubtedly involved in the deaths of at least 5, if not more people, including 2 of his wives, for the insurance monies. His reputation as a Voodoo practitioner had the black and white populations afraid of him, but the death of his 3rd wives niece was too much for another family member and The Preacher was shot at the funeral. The next part details the defense attorney who was also Willie's attorney and the jury's verdict of temporary insanity. The rest of the book is a biography of Harper Lee and her troubles with writing. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird after much time and struggles but couldn't seem to bring out a second book. A true crime book about William Maxwell was to be her second, after working for Truman Capote doing research for In Cold Blood, she thought she could a better job. After months of doing research and interviews she went back to New York and hit her brick wall. Nothing she wrote was ever good enough and after several yeas she gave up. This book is OK, but unlike apparently everyone else I've never been a fan of Harper Lee. I thought the movie of Mockingbird was better than the book and I did not Like Go Set a Watchman at all.

JCLBetM Sep 24, 2020

An intriguing book that at times confused and frustrated me, but somehow won me over by the end. I don't think it's necessarily well laid out, but if you think of it as a sort of meandering podcast series it's easier to appreciate what it does. The strange criminal case she researched for a book she never wrote takes a more front-and-center role in this book and, while interesting, the moving between it and her life makes for a disjointed reading experience. I learned a lot about Harper Lee, a bit about Truman Capote, and caught a fascinating though harsh glimpse into Southern life in the mid-20th century. If you like behind-the-scenes looks at creatives, this offers interesting views of what life was like for Harper Lee as she tried to continuously pursue her writing -- even though from the public's view the results (in number of publications) was limited.

s
SherryMarieJ
May 07, 2020

Recommended by Kris Rusch

jr3083 Feb 10, 2020

This book is almost three books in one. Part One 'The Reverend' tells the story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a keen purchaser of insurance policies on the lives of people close to him who were later found dead. There was no evidence, forensic or otherwise, to link him to the deaths, but as the deaths continued to occur and the insurance payouts continued to accumulate, it certainly looked very suspicious. Then, someone close to his last victim took the law into his hand, and the brilliant defence lawyer who had ensured that Rev. Willie Maxwell kept being found innocent, was suddenly defending the man accused of killing his former client.

Part Two, 'The Lawyer', shifts its attention to this brilliant defence lawyer, aspiring Democrat politician Tom Radney, who found it difficult to be elected in Alabama. He turned to the law instead, and this is the story of the trial. It goes through the trial day by day, with the moves and counter-moves. In the crowded courtroom, so reminiscent of the courthouse where Tom Robinson was defended by Atticus Finch, there was a small, middle-aged female writer. It was Nelle Harper Lee.

Part Three 'The Writer' focuses on Harper Lee. I hadn't realized to this point how autobiographical To Kill a Mockingbird had been, and although I knew of her friendship with Truman Capote, I didn't realize that he was the real-life Dill Cunningham! This section traces Lee's life, from childhood in Monroeville, through the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, her struggle to get another novel published, her journalism and assistance to Capote with In Cold Blood and her final days. In aiming to write her never-published (and perhaps never-written) proposed novel The Reverend, based on Rev. Willie Maxwell's courtcase, Lee was moving out of her comfort zone. The critique of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird would not apply in this courtcase where an African-American man killed an African-American preacher.

This book is beautifully written, just as evocative as Harper Lee's work is. I don't know if the author has tried to channel Lee's style, or whether it's a natural sympathy with it. In a book with three themes like this, it would not be surprising if one section was more engaging than the other, but this is not at all the case. It is a sensitive depiction of the craft of the writer, and an evocative description of 1970s Alabama.

d
dzroka
Jan 10, 2020

Furious Hours is an interesting read with a unique set up. It has two distinctive parts, although the book is broken into three parts. The first two parts tell the ominous tale of a Reverend suspected of committing multiple murders in order to collect on life insurance policies and the jury trial of the guy that ultimately kills the Reverend. The dialogues quoted in the trial are from actual court transcripts, per the Notes at the end of the book. Harper Lee shows up in part three. This part provides insight to her life and personality, in particular her relationships with her sisters, father, Truman Capote, neighbors, and friends. It also provides insight to the life of a writer, one that gained immediate success and publicity with one book and then struggled for decades to write a second. But more than this, the book offers a glimpse of the Southerner and the pride of Alabamians. Harper Lee understood that it was not uncommon for Southerners to oppose the Ku Klux Klan but at the same time support segregation. It was the New York editors that had her rework her original manuscript that left Atticus Finch as the archetype of justice and equality. I can see why this book was on Obama's 2019 reading list.

o
oldwestfan
Dec 03, 2019

I agree with some of the other comments that at some points the author goes meandering into backgrounds and histories that are not directly germane to the story, and I found myself skipping ahead to where she gets back on track. I can't tell if this was deliberate padding or she was just having so much fun she couldn't help herself, and neither did the editor.

That said, this is an extremely well written book about the public-averse Harper Lee, and a strange serial murder case that she unsuccessfully tried to make her long-awaited 2nd book, Along the way it delves into Lee's personal history including her friendship with Truman Capote and her involvement with In Cold Blood. It's an overall excellent read for those interested in the subject.

b
brigpa1
Sep 28, 2019

I really liked this book. The story of The Reverend was a true story of the Old Soth. I liked the trial and also am always fascinated with the bios of HL and Capote. My only criticism is, as mentioned previously,TMI about insurance policies and other trivial info about courts and over detailing about HL's later life. But I found I could not wait to get back to it.

4
4ntrvlr
Jun 16, 2019

I don’t get why this book is so highly rated. IMHO it would’ve been good as one or two long-form articles, but as a book it seems padded. The book is divided into 3 sections- about the murderer & murders; about the attorney (WAY too long!) and basically a biography of Harper Lee. While the writing is excellent, you have to be really interested in Harper Lee & Alabama to be blown away by this book. (The former could explain why the NYC literati gave this book raves. )

Hillsboro_ElizabethH Jun 06, 2019

While I understand this is the true crime Harper Lee wanted to write, I don't think that this would be it. Much too wordy, and honestly, too much information. Good try, though.

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