I fell in love with Harper Lee when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was about ten years old. I was immediately drawn to this book by the title; Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep is unique in that it’s a book about a murder trial in Alabama as well as a brief and fascinating biography of Harper Lee.
Reverend Willie Maxwell was a complex character. A preacher in rural Alabama, members of his family seemed to die with some regularity, leaving generous insurance policies with the Reverend as beneficiary. He was never convicted of any crime related to their deaths. Eventually, justice catches up with him. While attending the funeral of the last victim of Maxwell’s greed, the Reverend was shot to death by a relative in front of all the attendants. The irony of the story is that the lawyer who had repeatedly defended the late Reverend was the same lawyer who defended his killer. And, like the Reverend before him, the assassin was exonerated of the shooting.
The history and courtroom descriptions of the town and the trial are compelling. Cep’s vivid depictions of events take readers right into the action. When she introduces Harper Lee and the author’s involvement in the proceedings the pace of the book takes off.
As with many fans of Lee’s book I’ve always longed for more from her. It seems there could have been one. She was attracted to the happenings in Alexander City and spent many years researching the Reverend, the trial, and the history of the area. Despite all her work, she never wrote the book. Having assisted her childhood friend Truman Capote with his research on the Clutter family murders for his book, In Cold Blood, Lee was well prepared to handle the tasks necessary to compile an accurate and in-depth view of Maxwell and the other players in the crimes and tragedies that surrounded them.
Cep’s biographical information on Lee is worth the price of the book. In many ways, Lee’s life is a tragedy itself. I found it impossible to set the book down once I got into the meat of the Lee story. Even readers who aren’t big fans of Lee will find her story compelling. The rich history of the writer, her relationships, her quirks, are all laid bare to construct an insightful view of a woman who contributed to literature what I consider the great American novel.
I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy a good crime/courtroom narrative and to those who want to know more about the reclusive Harper Lee. It is an eye-opener.
New York Times Best Seller
“Compelling . . . at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee. If To Kill a Mockingbird was one of your favorite books growing up, you should add Furious Hours to your reading list today.” —Southern Living
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 years 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.