Furious Hours
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.

Furious Hours Details

TitleFurious Hours
Author
ReleaseMay 7th, 2019
PublisherRandom House Large Print Publishing
ISBN-139781984892232
Rating
GenreCrime, True Crime, Nonfiction, History, Mystery, Biography

Furious Hours Review

  • Maureen
    January 1, 1970
    Divided into three parts, Furious Hours tells the true story of Alabama serial killer the Reverend Willie Maxwell. In the 1970’s he was accused of murdering five family members in order to collect the life insurance money. With the help of a very clever lawyer, ( although rumour had it that Maxwell used voodoo to aid his success) he escaped justice, but at the funeral of his last victim, he was shot dead by one Robert Burns.The first part of the book illustrates the life of Willie Maxwell, the m Divided into three parts, Furious Hours tells the true story of Alabama serial killer the Reverend Willie Maxwell. In the 1970’s he was accused of murdering five family members in order to collect the life insurance money. With the help of a very clever lawyer, ( although rumour had it that Maxwell used voodoo to aid his success) he escaped justice, but at the funeral of his last victim, he was shot dead by one Robert Burns.The first part of the book illustrates the life of Willie Maxwell, the murders, the fear that he induced in the community because he was thought to use voodoo, and the revelation that he took out insurance policies on almost everyone he had close contact with.The second part introduces Maxwell’s lawyer Tom Radney who strangely also represented Maxwell’s killer, and despite there being hundreds of witnesses in the church, Robert Burns walked free. Present at Burns trial was none other than Harper Lee ( To Kill a Mockingbird). She kept a low profile and spent a year gathering material for a book she was to write about this strange case, but it was a book that never came to fruition.The third part of the book tells the story of Harper Lee - her relationship with Truman Capote, the choices she made that shaped her future, and the struggles that she had with her writing.The author has painted a wonderfully in depth portrait of this great writer, and she also illustrates the cultural and political climate of the times. The research carried out to produce Furious Hours must have been immense - the practice of law and the history of life insurance are just two of the things we learn about in great detail ( perhaps a little bit too much for me) however it was a fascinating read that shone a spotlight on this somewhat mysterious writer, but I personally found the first part of the book featuring Willie Maxwell the most intriguing.*Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for my ARC, for which I have given an honest unbiased review in exchange *
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  • Diane S ☔
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 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 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.g
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  • Carolyn
    January 1, 1970
    Casey Cep has written a fascinating account about Harper Lee's obsession with writing a true crime novel about the Reverend Willie Maxwell, who murdered five family members in Alabama for the insurance policies he took out on them and got away with it. After giving a eulogy for his stepdaughter (one of the five relatives he was suspected of killing) at her funeral in 1977 he was infamously shot dead in front of 300 people by Robert Burns, an uncle of the dead girl. Harper Lee not only attended B Casey Cep has written a fascinating account about Harper Lee's obsession with writing a true crime novel about the Reverend Willie Maxwell, who murdered five family members in Alabama for the insurance policies he took out on them and got away with it. After giving a eulogy for his stepdaughter (one of the five relatives he was suspected of killing) at her funeral in 1977 he was infamously shot dead in front of 300 people by Robert Burns, an uncle of the dead girl. Harper Lee not only attended Burns' trial but spent years collecting a meticulous amount of research about Willie Maxwell for a book that she proposed calling "The Reverend". Although, by all accounts, Harper Lee collected more than enough information for writing the book and never stopped working, the book never eventuated. In writing the book, Cep has retraced Lee's steps, interviewing the witnesses and lawyers involved. She was also lucky enough to be able to look at the same briefcase of documents on Maxwell that Tom Radney originally provided to Lee. The book is organised into three sections in order to highlight this extraordinary case. In the first section, we learn of Willie Maxwell's life, the murders he almost certainly committed and the extensive life insurance claims he made after his victims died amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The second section is focused on the lawyer, Tom Radney who successfully defended Maxwell and sued any reluctant insurance companies for payment of policies. In a strange turn of events, Radney was also the lawyer who defended Robert Burns on the charge of killing Willie Maxwell. Having set the scene, the final section is an account of Harper Lee's life, leading up to her interest in the Maxwell case, including her lifelong relationship with Truman Capote and her unrecognised contribution to the research for his book "In Cold Blood". Although not concluding why Lee was never able to finish her book on the Reverend, Cep gives a sympathetic account of the struggles and barriers that Lee might have faced in the decades after "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published, that may have contributed to her inability to complete a manuscript she was happy to send to an editor. This book hooked me in, first with the amazing case of William Maxwell and his ability to get away with so much probable fraud and murder and then with the account of Harper Lee's attempts to write what would have been a fascinating book. Highly recommended!With many thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK for providing a digital ARC of the book.
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  • Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 starsI was fascinated with the character of Scout Finch in Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird when I was a kid.  When I re-read the novel for my high school lit class, I was in awe of the layers of the story and its topics that are only complicated by growing up.  Scout kept it honest and that's what made her the perfect narrator; the adults are what complicated matters.I knew Harper Lee had never published another novel but when I decided to look into work she'd done in the foll 4.5 starsI was fascinated with the character of Scout Finch in Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird when I was a kid.  When I re-read the novel for my high school lit class, I was in awe of the layers of the story and its topics that are only complicated by growing up.  Scout kept it honest and that's what made her the perfect narrator; the adults are what complicated matters.I knew Harper Lee had never published another novel but when I decided to look into work she'd done in the following years, I immediately hit a dead end in the age of Google.  Lee valued her privacy above all else and stepped out of the spotlight almost immediately after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, which brought with it instant wealth and fame.  While she was quick to reply to letters from readers, she rarely gave interviews or attended events.I wondered if she'd written TKAM and decided it was her one and only masterpiece and put down her pen, if she'd written privately for years but never shared because she feared or resented the spotlight, or if she simply became overwhelmed at the thought of a follow up to such an important novel.  After turning in her final draft of TKAM to her publishers, Lee accompanied her life-long friend Truman Capote to Kansas where she assisted in researching the shocking murder of the Clutter family.  The notes taken by the pair later became the true-crime novel In Cold Blood, which is considered Capote's masterpiece. Little did I know that Lee learned about a serial killer in her home state of Alabama and a case that was so compelling she decided to write her own true-crime novel which she tentatively called The Reverend.Lee (as far as we know about the secretive writer) didn't write that true-crime novel but now author Casey Cep has pieced together the facts of the case that Lee spent years researching in the upcoming novel Furious Hours.Readers are given the history of the small Alabama town where rural preacher Reverend Willie Maxwell grew up and what little is known about his early life.  Then, things take a curious turn.  Five of Maxwell's family members die over a short period of time, all under highly suspicious circumstances, while Maxwell holds multiple life insurance policies on each.  With the help of lawyer Tom Radney, Maxwell is found not guilty of the murder of his first wife and manages to collect large sums from the life insurance companies who were refusing to make payment because of the blatantly obvious crimes.  In each case, the police never gather enough solid evidence to charge Maxwell with murder.  At the funeral for his last victim, Maxwell is shot dead by Robert Burns in front of hundreds of witnesses.Robert Burns is aquitted... with the help of Tom Radney, the same lawyer who had previously defended the Reverend.  Writer Harper Lee is sitting in the courtroom during the trial, taking notes on what she hopes to be her next novel.When Lee sat down to figure out how to write The Reverend, she realized she needed a protagonist, and set her sights on lawyer Tom Radney, who worked both sides of the curious case for years.  Radney was willing to help Lee in any way he could to get the book written and more importantly, he was an ideal morally complex character.  Radney had kept Maxwell out of prison and profited from the multiple insurance litigations and then in a surprising turn of events went on to win an aquittal for Maxwell's murderer.The problem was that Radney wasn't a reliable narrator. Lee wanted accuracy and it was maddening to find that her protagonist misremembered events of both the case and his own life.Looking into the early life of Maxwell was equally troublesome because there were so few records of his life before the murders.Short on facts, worried about the writing process and possible implications, Lee's writing floundered.  While those close to the private author knew never to ask what she was working on, she had offered information through the years on The Reverend, and the vague details given turned into myth as people have attested to wildly different levels of its progress.Furious Hours is divided into three parts: The Reverend, The Lawyer, and The Writer.  Casey Cep gives us the solid facts on the life of the Reverend, from the sparse details of his beginning to his dramatic end at the funeral of his final victim.Next, we learn the facts of Tom Radney's life leading up to his work in the cases involving Willie Maxwell.  Cep was able to gather a wealth of information about Radney, who passed away before she began researching this book, thanks to the help of his family.Last but certainly not least, Cep sticks to the facts of Nelle Harper Lee's notoriously private life.  The mystery surrounding Lee's life and work has fascinated me to no end since I was a teen so when I learned last year that someone had taken the time to research both and that at the center of that mystery was a true crime story, there are no words for the level of excitement I experienced.Cep did an exceptional job of researching the case of Willie Maxwell and Harper Lee's surprising involvement.  Lee did not write the true-crime novel she set out to but thanks to Cep's research, the dramatic case has finally been placed into the hands of readers with what I believe to be the same fair and accurate reporting that Lee would've given.Both a fascinating true crime story and a candid look at Harper Lee's life and effort to write a second novel, Furious Hours is a compelling book* that does justice to both stories told.I have been anticipating this book for months.  I cannot possibly thank Knopf Publishing Group and the First To Read program enough for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy!Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee is scheduled for release on May 6, 2019.For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    Harper Lee was intrigued with the true-crime story of the Reverend Willie Maxwell. She did an amazing amount of research, and then floundered when she tried to write a tale that would appeal to her many fans. Cep has succeeded where Lee failed.Willie Maxwell was born in Alabama in 1925, served two tours in the Army, and earned a Good Conduct Medal. He married Mary Lou in 1947, worked two jobs and preached at three different churches. At least, he did so until people around him started dying—firs Harper Lee was intrigued with the true-crime story of the Reverend Willie Maxwell. She did an amazing amount of research, and then floundered when she tried to write a tale that would appeal to her many fans. Cep has succeeded where Lee failed.Willie Maxwell was born in Alabama in 1925, served two tours in the Army, and earned a Good Conduct Medal. He married Mary Lou in 1947, worked two jobs and preached at three different churches. At least, he did so until people around him started dying—first his wife Mary Lou, then his neighbor’s husband Abram Anderson, his 2nd wife—Dorcus Anderson, his brother J.C. Maxwell, his nephew James Hicks, and finally, his step-daughter, Shirley Ann Ellington. Funny thing, the Reverend was the beneficiary of insurance policies on most of these victims. Indeed, this showcases the odd practice whereby life insurance policies could be taken out on people without them ever knowing about it.It was no surprise that a relative of Shirley Ann took issue with the bizarre circumstances of her death. However, it WAS a surprise when he shot Willie Maxwell three times AT HER FUNERAL. Talk about vigilante justice! Clearly he needs a REALLY GOOD attorney. Enter Defense Attorney Tom Radney!And who chose to attend the sensational trial, take copious notes and interview anyone and everyone associated with the case? You guessed it, Nelle Harper Lee. Cep provides a window on the life of the reclusive author—including her long friendship with Truman Capote beginning when they were children. I certainly did not know that she provided a lot of the research for Capote’s In Cold Blood. Highly recommend.
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    Seventeen years since the publication of, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee lat in a courtroom in Alabama. She was planning to write a true crime book about the case she was watching, but that book was never published. In this volume, author, Casey Cep, writes not only a compelling explanation as to why this book never appeared, but also combines true crime and biography, in a riveting account of a crime and the characters involved.She begins by looking at the murder victim, the Reverend Willi Seventeen years since the publication of, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee lat in a courtroom in Alabama. She was planning to write a true crime book about the case she was watching, but that book was never published. In this volume, author, Casey Cep, writes not only a compelling explanation as to why this book never appeared, but also combines true crime and biography, in a riveting account of a crime and the characters involved.She begins by looking at the murder victim, the Reverend Willie Maxwell, whose exploits almost defy belief. Born in 1925, Maxwell was a man who had a tendency to insure almost everyone within his orbit; benefiting by their deaths, which seemed to happen with alarming regularity and in suspiciously similar circumstances. The second character was lawyer, Tom Radney, who swopped from dealing with Maxwell’s, seemingly endless, insurance claims, to defending his killer. Through looking at Radney, Cep manages to incorporate the history and politics of the area. To my mind, the talk of sharecroppers, voodoo and unspoken segregation, spoke of an earlier age, and it was almost a shock to discover that this book took place, mostly in the Seventies. Lastly, the author turns her attention to Harper Lee, looking at her life, her friendship with Truman Capote, and her first experience with writing true crime, when she was involved in the research for, “In Cold Blood.” I knew very little about Harper Lee, so I think I found this the most interesting part of the book, although, to be honest, I was riveted by all of it. It is hard to imagine that this is a debut, as it is so self-assured and well written. I trust that Casey Cep has further works planned, as she is an author to watch. A fascinating account of a crime, with excellent historical and literary background. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review and recommend it highly.
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  • Jill Meyer
    January 1, 1970
    "Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee", by Casey Cep, is my favorite type of book. It's a work of non-fiction that reads like fiction. It's a bit of a strange book - Cep writes three different stories that she doesn't bring together til the end, but somehow, it comes together beautifully.Harper Lee, long famed for "To Kill A Mockingbird", never published another book during her lifetime. After her death in 2016, an unfinished manuscript was published by her estate. The "Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee", by Casey Cep, is my favorite type of book. It's a work of non-fiction that reads like fiction. It's a bit of a strange book - Cep writes three different stories that she doesn't bring together til the end, but somehow, it comes together beautifully.Harper Lee, long famed for "To Kill A Mockingbird", never published another book during her lifetime. After her death in 2016, an unfinished manuscript was published by her estate. The book, a prequel of sorts to "Mockingbird" was called "Go Set a Watchman" , was fairly panned by critics and readers. But Lee had been quietly been working on another book a few years after "Mockingbird"; a true crime book set in Alabama was to be her second book. Getting back to Casey Cep. Her book is the story of the true crime - a black pastor in Alabama was suspected in five murders of his own family, including two of his three wives. Part one is "The Reverend". He was murdered in cold blood at the funeral of his last victim. All the victims had been heavily insured by the killer and Cep does a great job at looking at Reverend Willie Maxwell and his world in rural Alabama. Her writing is as good as Thomas Thomson's in his true crime books. The second part of the book, "The Lawyer", is about local lawyer Tom Radney, who defended both Willie Maxwell AND the man who gunned down Maxwell. Radney - that rare bird in Alabama, a Democrat - has his own stories of life-as-a-liberal. Part three is "The Writer" and is the story of Harper Lee in the years since the publication of "To Kill A Mockingbird". Living in both New York City and Alabama, Harper Lee can't seem to get it together to write another book. She seemed to enjoy her fame, but, at the same time, run for cover when she's recognised. She lost her publishing support team when her editor and manager died in New York and she aged along with her two older sisters in Alabama. It was during the 1970's Harper Lee decided to investigate the Reverend Willie Maxwell's murders and his own. But, she couldn't seem to put her notes to book form. Eventually, she gave up investigating and "Go Set a Watchman" was her last book.Casey Cep is such a good writer that all the book was interesting, not just the part about Harper Lee. I highly recommend it.
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  • Lou
    January 1, 1970
    I must start by saying that Furious Hours is probably the best true crime work I have had the pleasure of reading; it has so much more to it than one would initially imagine and that's what makes it such a gripping book. It's an amalgamation of true crime, American history, legal thriller and biography of Harper Lee, which is a very interesting mix and works well. For many years Lee was obsessed with one particular case - that of church minister Reverend Willie Maxwell, and set in the context of I must start by saying that Furious Hours is probably the best true crime work I have had the pleasure of reading; it has so much more to it than one would initially imagine and that's what makes it such a gripping book. It's an amalgamation of true crime, American history, legal thriller and biography of Harper Lee, which is a very interesting mix and works well. For many years Lee was obsessed with one particular case - that of church minister Reverend Willie Maxwell, and set in the context of the time and place - 1970s rural Alabama, United States - it provides much thought-provoking information on the racial, political, cultural and societal circumstances at the time.It's certainly very easy to get swept up in this story, and I indeed was. Part of my fascination, being a law graduate, was the trial of Reverend Maxwell's killer and seeing the differences in American law when compared to the British and the nuances of the system. The case begins with murder and insurance fraud and from that point onwards the body count grows and grows. As it is a little-known case it's one many people, including myself, will not have been aware of; this is quite refreshing as most true crime books focus on infamous crimes and convicts.The depiction of the deep south, also referred to as the gothic south, is vivid and evocative, and Casey Cep does a wonderful job of writing the book that Lee worked on for years after her most celebrated work, To Kill a Mockingbird, but could not finish. Included is information on the development and growth of the insurance business, paying particular attention to life insurance which it is widely believed was the motive behind the Reverend's killing spree. The irony of the lawyer, Tom Radney, who managed to get Maxwell acquitted, later repeats this in respect of Maxwell's killer, Robert Burns.The first half focuses on the case and trial whilst the second discusses lawyer Tom Radney and the final section goes into detail about Harper Lee herself. Her struggle to become accustomed to the fame and fortune that comes with achieving bestseller status and her perfectionist tendencies which led to her being unable to complete and release this book in her lifetime as she'd planned. I loved that we found out more than we ever have before about the enigmatic Ms Lee. All in all, this is a brilliantly compelling and well-structured work of non-fiction and the engaging writing and touch of humour keep you turning the pages long after the sun goes down. Many thanks to William Heinemann for an ARC.
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  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    "Nothing writes itself. Left to its own devices, the world will never transform into words."Furious hours is an account of a sensational murder trial that captivated a small town in Alabama and one of its home grown heroes, the reclusive novelist Harper Lee. Known best for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee struggled over her lifetime to produce another book. There has been much speculation over the reason(s) behind this. It’s highly unlikely that it was a mere case of w "Nothing writes itself. Left to its own devices, the world will never transform into words."Furious hours is an account of a sensational murder trial that captivated a small town in Alabama and one of its home grown heroes, the reclusive novelist Harper Lee. Known best for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee struggled over her lifetime to produce another book. There has been much speculation over the reason(s) behind this. It’s highly unlikely that it was a mere case of writer’s block for Lee was always writing. Perhaps her battle with alcoholism played a part. Nonetheless the world would always crave for another Great American classic from the famous author.Lee’s Inspiration: The State of Alabama v Robert BurnsIn a case of vigilante justice Robert Lewis Burns kills his 16 year old niece’s alleged murderer in front of hundreds of mourners at her funeral.The “Victim”: Willie MaxwellCharismatic and handsome the Reverend Willie Maxwell was used to getting things his way. Brought to trial for murdering his first wife, accused of insurance fraud and rumored to be practicing voodoo, the good reverend remained free and virtually unscathed. Over time four other family members would die under suspicious circumstances. In every case Maxwell was the prime beneficiary. He continued to get rich of their insurance monies with nary a guilty judgement. His teflon existence is in part a testament to the exceptional litigation skills of his attorney Tom Radney who would go on to successfully defend his murderer. Casey Cep examines this case that so intrigued Harper Lee and delves into her history with Truman Capote and her life after writing To Kill a Mockingbird. The common misperception with Furious Hours is that it is the true crime novel that Harper Lee started but never finished writing. The book is divided into three sections with the first part dedicated to the case and Maxwell’s backstory, the second focused on Tom Radney and his motivation for defending both Maxwell and Burns and the last on Harper Lee. It is this last part that I was most excited for. I felt as if Cep had finally arrived at my impetus for reading the book. Although the trial material was fascinating I really was driven to learn more about Lee and her life. It seemed as if there were two books here that could have been fleshed out. Overall though Furious Hours was an enjoyable read and a promising debut for Casey Cep.NY Times coverage of the Burns case 1977
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  • Louise Wilson
    January 1, 1970
    The story of an Alabama serial killer and the true - crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the rears after To Kill A Mocking Bird.The Reverend Willie Maxwell is a preacher who's been accused of killing five of his family members for the insurance money. But Willie always got off scott-free. He was shot in front of three hundred people. The man who shot him was defended by the lawyer that Willie used. He also managed to get the shooter off despite there being several witnesses. This The story of an Alabama serial killer and the true - crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the rears after To Kill A Mocking Bird.The Reverend Willie Maxwell is a preacher who's been accused of killing five of his family members for the insurance money. But Willie always got off scott-free. He was shot in front of three hundred people. The man who shot him was defended by the lawyer that Willie used. He also managed to get the shooter off despite there being several witnesses. This is an addictive read. The book is written in three acts. It's both fascinating and entertaining. I do recommend this book.I would like to thank NetGalley, Random House UK, Cornerstone and the author Casey Cep for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Marjorie
    January 1, 1970
    The Rev. Willie Maxwell is a preacher who is well known for being accused and/or suspicioned of killing five of his family members for insurance money. But Willie has a good lawyer (or else he’s very good at casting voodoo spells which some people believe) and he’s always gotten off scot-free. That was so until the death of his stepdaughter when the girl’s uncle, Robert Lewis Brown, shot and killed the Reverend at the girl’s funeral. Now Brown must face his own trial for murder and unbelievably, The Rev. Willie Maxwell is a preacher who is well known for being accused and/or suspicioned of killing five of his family members for insurance money. But Willie has a good lawyer (or else he’s very good at casting voodoo spells which some people believe) and he’s always gotten off scot-free. That was so until the death of his stepdaughter when the girl’s uncle, Robert Lewis Brown, shot and killed the Reverend at the girl’s funeral. Now Brown must face his own trial for murder and unbelievably, he is represented by the same attorney who represented the Reverend for so many years - Tom Radney.It had been many years since Harper Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Readers and publishers had been anxiously awaiting a new book from her. She needed something special to bring her writing talent to life again. When she heard of the stories surrounding the Rev. Willie Maxwell, she believed that this was the book she had been waiting to write and she traveled to Alabama to gather research. She wasn’t new at true crime research as she had been with Truman Capote when he researched and conducted interviews for his book “In Cold Blood”. Lee was never happy with all the untruths contained in Capote’s book and was determined that her book on the Reverend would be more factual. And yet, whatever happened to that book she referred to as “The Reverend”?This is a top-of-the-line biographical work. I was completely immersed in this story of crime and greed. I’ve always been fascinated by both Harper Lee and Truman Capote though had never read anything about Lee’s involvement in the Willie Maxwell story. Even without Lee’s involvement, Maxwell’s story and all the rumors and superstitions surrounding it make a very compelling, bewitching tale. The addition of Harper Lee in the mix is luscious icing on an already amazing cake. The author does a stunning job of telling the facts of this story. It’s one of those situations where truth is stranger than fiction. I’m blown away that this is the debut work of this author. She has rendered this story both in a riveting way while keeping it all very factual and true to life. Not only does she relay the facts of the immediate story of Maxwell and Lee but also includes a history of how life insurance began, the ongoing belief in voodoo in the south, how justice doesn’t always triumph in a courtroom and the workings of artistic creativity. I had a very hard time putting this one down and will long remember it.Most highly recommended.This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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  • Krista
    January 1, 1970
    Among the many already-written books keeping Lee company in her apartment was a copy of Daniel DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe, which she had read, as she put it, umpteen times. Crusoe had been shipwrecked twenty-eight years, and Lee must have identified. Ages had passed since she had published Mockingbird, yet there she was surrounded by loneliness, struggling with a book that didn't seem to want to be written, on what must have felt, at times, like her own Island of Despair. Her father, like Crusoe's, Among the many already-written books keeping Lee company in her apartment was a copy of Daniel DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe, which she had read, as she put it, umpteen times. Crusoe had been shipwrecked twenty-eight years, and Lee must have identified. Ages had passed since she had published Mockingbird, yet there she was surrounded by loneliness, struggling with a book that didn't seem to want to be written, on what must have felt, at times, like her own Island of Despair. Her father, like Crusoe's, had wanted her to stay home, but she had gone adventuring instead and was now alone in her apartment notching her days.In an opening letter from author Casey Cep, she explains that when she first learned that Harper Lee would be publishing the novel Go Set a Watchman, she travelled to Alabama in order to write an article on the book's surprise release for The New Yorker. While there, she learned of a different book that Lee had been trying to write in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird; a true crime, in the vein of In Cold Blood (for which Lee had acted as a research assistant for Truman Capote before Mockingbird hit the public), and the more that Cep learned about the bizarre tale of a Black serial killing voodoo preacher, the progressive white lawyer who represented him, and the vigilante who took down the fraudulent preacherman – and the more she learned about Harper Lee's struggles to put the story on the page – the more Cep felt the urge “to pick up where she left off”. You might say it takes some chutzpah to accept that torch and carry on where the fabled Harper Lee had failed, but the resulting Furious Hours is a compelling and rich narrative. Who knows what Ms Lee might have made of her material if she hadn't so firmly blocked her own way, but Cep does the story proud. (Note: I read an ARC and passages quoted might not be in their final forms.) Ghost bells, war cries, the clanging of slave chains: if ever a land came by its haunting honestly, it is Eastern Alabama. In the long empty miles between towns there, the highways rise and fall over hills that keep most things out of view and make every sight a sudden one. Where the pavement ends, the roads turn to dirt as red as rust or blood. Pines and oak trees line them, tattered moss hanging from their branches like wraiths. At night, the fog is so thick that anything can disappear into it or come walking out of it.The Reverend Maxwell claimed that he was afraid of what was out there, too. All his life, he insisted that he was innocent – of his first wife's murder, of his neighbor's death, of his brother's death, of his second wife's death, of any crime whatsoever, of the practice of voodoo. All claims to the contrary, he said, amounted to vicious gossip spread at the expense of a righteous man widowed twice in only two years. The fact that he had insurance on all those who died did not suggest a motive; it showed only that he was a scrupulous spouse and sibling. Furious Hours is separated into three sections: The first tells the life story of the Reverend Willie Maxwell; the second is the life and career of Big Tom Radney – the lawyer/politician who not only got rich helping Maxwell collect on the proliferation of life insurance policies that the Reverend held on the people around him, but who also defended the man who shot Maxwell down in public; and the final section is on Harper Lee: her life, career, and what she was up to in the years that she had self-exiled from public view. Each section is jam-packed with detail, and as I always find with this kind of book, these details are of varying degrees of interest to me. I didn't really like when the story of Willie Maxwell was interrupted by the history of the life insurance industry – starting in the Roman Empire, through the Great Fire of London, to America's Civil War days. (But then I did like the included nugget that the man to best capitalise on London's post-fire building and insurance boom was named Nicholas If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-for-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone.) The following suited me perfectly (which only proves that Cep, nor any nonfiction author, could possibly suit all tastes, all the time): There were courts in Alabama even before there were courthouses. In the early years of the nineteenth century, a judge in Baldwin County presided from the fork of an oak tree, with the jury on his right, the spectators on his left, and another oak – one for the hangman – not far away. In Jasper, the seat of Walker County, the judge sat on a big rock, the jury on a bigger one. Over in Randolph County, the judge's bench was a stump, and those he sentenced to jail did their time in a hollow log along the Tallapoosa River. After one prisoner nearly drowned after the river flooded and carried the log off the bank with him inside it, the court turned over a wagon instead, put prisoners underneath, and had a sheriff sit on top. Being a poor Black man from Alabama in the mid-twentieth century, there wasn't a whole lot of information about Willie Maxwell outside of his court cases; so where there were rumours of him practising voodoo, Cep gives us a look into conjuring; where he was a circuit preacher, we learn about revival tents; where Maxwell worked in pulpwood, we learn about the industry. Being a progressive up-and-coming Democrat in George Wallace's segregationist South, there's plenty of meat to put Tom Radney into context (I loved that when he was defending Maxwell's killer, this former hobnobber with the likes of JFK included in his summation to the jury, “I am only a simple country lawyer...”) But the real story begins in the third section, with Harper Lee – a section that explains the history of Go Set a Watchman, her complicated relationship with Truman Capote, the starts and stops and writer's block that kept her from publishing anything of note beyond what she referred to as “The Bird” and a few short magazine pieces. Because Cep tells us what Lee wanted to accomplish with Maxwell's story (which she eventually thought she might novelise, as honouring the victims in nonfiction felt unworkable), this seems a fitting revival of Lee's ideas; and since Cep so carefully details Lee's reclusive post-Mockingbird years, she sheds a light on where Watchman belongs in Lee's story (which pretty much fits Cep's original assignment). Maybe this felt a bit like three different stories, but I liked them all. Informative and interesting, a compelling read.
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  • Marianne
    January 1, 1970
    4.5★s“Lee had committed herself to a book built from facts, but when it came to the story of the Reverend Maxwell, those were hard to come by, and harder still to verify ... History isn’t what happened but what gets written down, and the various sources that make up the archival record generally overlooked the lives of poor black southerners … A writer trying to fix the life of Reverend Willie Maxwell on the page was mostly at the mercy of oral history, which could be misremembered or manipulate 4.5★s“Lee had committed herself to a book built from facts, but when it came to the story of the Reverend Maxwell, those were hard to come by, and harder still to verify ... History isn’t what happened but what gets written down, and the various sources that make up the archival record generally overlooked the lives of poor black southerners … A writer trying to fix the life of Reverend Willie Maxwell on the page was mostly at the mercy of oral history, which could be misremembered or manipulated or simply withheld from an outsider.”Furious Hours is a non-fiction book by American author, Casey Cep. In 1977, author Harper Lee attended, virtually incognito, the murder trial of Robert Louis Burns in Alexander City, Alabama. It was a fascinating case, and Lee, already known for To Kill A Mockingbird, and for her part in Truman Capote’s true-crime classic, In Cold Blood, intended to write a book about it. She never did. Cep divides her account of this into three sections.The Reverend was Reverend Willie Maxwell, and this section summarises his life and details the known facts about the six deaths in which he is thought to have a hand. Cep paints the backdrop for these deaths by giving the reader brief potted histories of: the area in Alabama where it all took place; life insurance policies and practices; the trade of pulpwooding; the development of forensic sciences in Alabama; and voodoo. Maxwell’s scheme with life insurance policies was well known from his first wife’s death, so by the time the next family member, his older brother, John died: “According to his death certificate, John Columbus dies of a heart attack, caused by the overconsumption of alcohol; according to nearly the whole of Nixburg, John Columbus died of being a Maxwell.”The Attorney was Tom Radney, former politician, but by 1977, a successful full-time lawyer in Alexander City: “Big Tom was a walking Rolodex of bias and conflict; he knew who had been fired from what, where someone had worked before she got her current job, why one person would pardon an aggravated assault and another would want the death penalty for petty theft. He was the lawyerly version of the ‘old woman’ in W. J. Cash’s Mind of the South, the one, ‘with the memory like a Homeric bard’s, capable of moving easily through a mass of names and relationships so intricate that the quantum theory is mere child’s play in comparison.’”He had represented Willie Maxwell in court for the trial for his first wife’s murder as well as the myriad of contested insurance claims, but now he was representing the man who shot Maxwell in front of three hundred witnesses. “Five of the several dozen prospective jurors had to be dismissed right away, because, in addition to being summoned, they’d been subpoenaed: four were character witnesses for the defendant, and one was an eyewitness to the shooting. Those dismissals were telling. As with any small-town trial, the lawyers had to weigh not whether people knew one another but how well, in what way, and what degree of sympathy or antipathy.”The Writer was, of course, (Nelle) Harper Lee, and Cep offers a brief life history, concentrating on Lee’s contribution to Capote’s research for In True Blood, and then her writer’s block, which her close friends and family hoped would be dispelled by her interest in the Maxwell Case. Lee spent almost a year in Alex City researching the non-fiction book she planned to write.But apart from worrying that she might be sued, she faced other challenges: a “shortage of [verifiable] facts, the lack of an ideal protagonist, her unfamiliarity with the lives of African Americans, a certain uncomfortable muddiness concerning black criminality in a criminally racist society, and a related discomfort with her own deep delight in the self-serving mythologies of the southern gentry.” This led, in later years, to Lee toying with turning it into fiction. The book, eagerly awaited by so many, never eventuated.Cep’s meticulous research is apparent on every page, and also evidenced by the comprehensive notes for each chapter and the extensive bibliography. A handy map complements the text. Cep’s real talent, though, is presenting this wealth of information in an eminently readable form that will keep the reader enthralled despite knowing the ultimate outcome. Utterly captivating.This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Penguin Random House
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  • Barbara
    January 1, 1970
    Harper Lee spent nearly a decade struggling to write a true crime book about Willie Maxwell's alleged crimes and his subsequent murder, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful. Casey Cep has had far more success in creating a book that covers the same true crime territory, but surrounds it with biographical information about Thomas Radney, the attorney first for Maxwell and later for his killer, but most of all about Harper Lee.The book is divided into three segments, The Reverend (Maxwell), Harper Lee spent nearly a decade struggling to write a true crime book about Willie Maxwell's alleged crimes and his subsequent murder, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful. Casey Cep has had far more success in creating a book that covers the same true crime territory, but surrounds it with biographical information about Thomas Radney, the attorney first for Maxwell and later for his killer, but most of all about Harper Lee.The book is divided into three segments, The Reverend (Maxwell), the Lawyer (Radney) and the Writer (Lee). The Reverend moves along briskly, Cep having done an admirable job of fleshing out the lives of black Alabamians where little documentary evidence exists. She does this through rich descriptions of the history and culture of the community and without speculating beyond the factual evidence available to her. In the Lawyer, she paints Radney as an anomalous Kennedy Democrat in the Deep South, a gifted attorney whose ethics were sometimes questionable, and whose political career never blossomed as he'd hoped. I found this section the least engaging, although I can appreciate that Cep has structured the book to require its inclusion for the purpose of symmetry and to complete the picture of the time and place. And to tell the Willie Maxwell story in a way that Lee could not.In the Writer Cep presents us with a vivid image of Harper Lee, her enormous talent and work ethic, as well as her struggles to produce another book that satisfied her own standards as To Kill a Mockingbird had. With no authorized biography of Lee as guidance, Cep turns again to the factual record to create the picture of a woman who was driven by both her Deep South background and her fondness for the larger intellectual world. Cep convinces us that Lee's long relationship with Truman Capote was the motivation for her to begin the Maxwell book, but also the cause of her failure to complete it. Her efforts not to play fast and loose with the truth as Capote had in In Cold Blood came to be an insurmountable hurdle since the Maxwell case lacked many of characteristics that were key to the Kansas murders in Capote's book. It's hard not to wonder whether Lee's ties to Alabama were, ultimately, both a blessing and a curse. The place that was so embedded in her soul may have given her the fictional gift of "Bird", but getting closer to the reality may have been more than she could handle.
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  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
    January 1, 1970
    The book is in three parts, each of which seems almost like a different book. The first part is the most compelling, it's a true crime narrative, about the murders of five family members of Reverend Maxwell, committed shortly after he took out life insurance on them. Although the murderer is apparent, the local law officials can't make a case that will stick. The second part is of the trial - not the trial of the Reverend, but the trial of his murderer. This part I found a bit problematic - the The book is in three parts, each of which seems almost like a different book. The first part is the most compelling, it's a true crime narrative, about the murders of five family members of Reverend Maxwell, committed shortly after he took out life insurance on them. Although the murderer is apparent, the local law officials can't make a case that will stick. The second part is of the trial - not the trial of the Reverend, but the trial of his murderer. This part I found a bit problematic - the lawyer who had defended Reverend Maxwell successfully over the years acted as his murderer's defense attorney. Of course everyone is entitled to a defense, but the author seemed to lionize the lawyer as a hero, and this seemed a stretch to me. Perhaps the help she got from the lawyer's family (he died before the research for this book started) swayed her opinion. Then the third part was all about Harper Lee and her effort to write a book about the case and the trial. This was the weakest part since most of it was purely biographical and had little to do with the murder case. If I had not already read bios of Harper Lee, I might have been more interested in learning how she came to write and then stop writing. Eventually, her project fizzled out without a book or even an article about the case. The book goes off on some interesting tangents, such as the history of life insurance in America, the history of the insanity defense, and the history of true crime as entertainment in America. (Thanks to Penguin FirsttoRead for a digital review copy.)
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  • Kales
    January 1, 1970
    A co-worker came into my office, put this book on my desk and said you need to read it. I asked why and then she told me the whole plot. And I mean, the entire plot. I kept thinking "Well if you just told me the whole thing, why do I still need to read it?" Because it's just THAT incredible. She was right. It's worth every word. Seriously. It doesn't get much better than a true crime about a Reverend from the south who supposedly killed five family members, never convicted and then was shot in f A co-worker came into my office, put this book on my desk and said you need to read it. I asked why and then she told me the whole plot. And I mean, the entire plot. I kept thinking "Well if you just told me the whole thing, why do I still need to read it?" Because it's just THAT incredible. She was right. It's worth every word. Seriously. It doesn't get much better than a true crime about a Reverend from the south who supposedly killed five family members, never convicted and then was shot in front of 300 people. The man who shot him, was then represented by the victim's lawyer who managed to get the shooter off, despite the witnesses. In the midst of it all, one of the greatest American authors ever is investigating this story for her possibly second masterpiece. WHAT??This books reads so quickly. I read over 160 pages in one day. It's addicting and fascinating. The author breaks down the complicated story into three manageable acts: The Reverend, The Lawyer, and The Writer. While investigating their entire lives, she goes into they history of life insurance, Lake Martin in Alabama, the development of IN COLD BLOOD, and so many other little aspects that are interesting, sometimes a little boring, but add such flavors to the story. And, to top it off, this is a debut book! I was impressed with the writing. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and is delicious. Plus she has some of the best cliff hangers at the end of chapters that I have ever read. That's why I just kept reading, because there was never a good place to stop.This is an exciting new read for fans of true crime, literary fiction, and American history. I'm so glad my co-worker made me pick this up because I don't know if I would have on my own. And I would have missed something great.Conclusion: Buy in hardcover
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  • Thebooktrail
    January 1, 1970
    Visit the locations in the book As soon as I heard that this was a case which had inspired Harper Lee, then it was a given I was going to read it. A fascinating account of a novelist examining a real life case with the aim of writing a novel.This is a non-fiction account of that research but with a fictional element to it which really brings it to life.The case of the preacher, was going to end up in a book called The Reverend. Readers were eager to read something else from Harper Lee given the Visit the locations in the book As soon as I heard that this was a case which had inspired Harper Lee, then it was a given I was going to read it. A fascinating account of a novelist examining a real life case with the aim of writing a novel.This is a non-fiction account of that research but with a fictional element to it which really brings it to life.The case of the preacher, was going to end up in a book called The Reverend. Readers were eager to read something else from Harper Lee given the success of “To Kill a Mocking Bird.” She’d already helped Truman Capote to research “In Cold Blood” and now, this was her turn. We learn that she was keen to get it right and make it more factual than Truman’s book.They say truth is stranger than fiction and I think that this case and this book proves the point. In the case of The Reverend, Willie Maxwell, a preacher is shot at a funeral. People suspect this latest funeral is for one of his victims. One in a long line of people he’s murdered for the insurance money. Now the girl’s uncle, Robert Lewis Brown, shots the man dead. This is the story of his trial…Tom Radney is his lawyer. Tom was also the Lawyer for the dead man…This ticks so many boxes as it’s about a real life case, a real life case of intrigue. Add Harper Lee into the mix and you have the makings of a fascinating story and trial. The book goes so much further than this as it builds a rich and complex picture of the growth of the American insurance industry,American politics, attitudes in the deep south and so much more. The belief in and use of Voodoo was a particular source of interest here and it was fascinating to see how these beliefs affected and coloured all others aspects of life. A trial in the deep south was very reminiscent of Harper Lee’s books but even she probably couldn’t have written such a strange yet compelling plot.This is apparently a debut and if it is, it’s pretty darn spectacular. It’s rich in history and story, characters and setting, threads of fact and fiction weave to create a compelling picture.And that added frisson when you realise that Harper Lee was there, documenting it all.Highly recommended.
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  • Shannon A
    January 1, 1970
    This meticulous researched book dispels myths and beliefs held about Harper Lee, her family and friends. It tells the true story of the case that inspired her to start writing another book, yes, really and not the book you think. I devoured this book.
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  • Jamie Canaves
    January 1, 1970
    History + Biographies + True Crime!This was one of those audiobooks that I listened to in a day as I found it really interesting. You basically get the story of a serial killer preacher who kept taking life insurance policies out on people who kept dying. You learn about the lawyer who defended him, and later defended the man who killed him. Then it goes into Truman Capote researching with Harper Lee for his writing of In Cold Blood, and finally everything comes together as we learn of Harper Le History + Biographies + True Crime!This was one of those audiobooks that I listened to in a day as I found it really interesting. You basically get the story of a serial killer preacher who kept taking life insurance policies out on people who kept dying. You learn about the lawyer who defended him, and later defended the man who killed him. Then it goes into Truman Capote researching with Harper Lee for his writing of In Cold Blood, and finally everything comes together as we learn of Harper Lee’s writing about the preacher serial killer in hopes of writing her own true crime book. I loved the way this was written–not for entertainment value but rather as an investigation of the ills of our society–and there was plenty of “did you know” tidbits throughout that kept this interesting rather than boring. Great read for fans of history, biographies, and true crime–it never goes the rout of obsessing over the violence or gruesome details.--from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: https://link.bookriot.com/view/56a820...
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  • Devin Rutland
    January 1, 1970
    Holy wow. Cep's reporting is stunning. The balance between the unsettling story of The Reverend and the inclusion of the precarious political and racial climate of Alabama after the end of legal segregation is compelling. The story of the crimes on its own reads like a southern gothic novel. She colors the narrative with rich descriptions of the setting, the people involved, the family history, and the relentless drama. On top of it all, she gives amazingly written biographies of Maxwell the Rev Holy wow. Cep's reporting is stunning. The balance between the unsettling story of The Reverend and the inclusion of the precarious political and racial climate of Alabama after the end of legal segregation is compelling. The story of the crimes on its own reads like a southern gothic novel. She colors the narrative with rich descriptions of the setting, the people involved, the family history, and the relentless drama. On top of it all, she gives amazingly written biographies of Maxwell the Reverend, Tom Radney the Lawyer, and Harper Lee, who of course you already know, the latter being an extraordinary in-depth look at the author who was so mysterious to us all.
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  • Graham
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best books I’ve ever read.
  • Liv | Books to Liv by
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you Knopf Team for gifting me this Arc in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Rating: 4,5 stars HEA: (view spoiler)[ Real life doesn’t work like that, but there’s some sort of closure, so I would say yes. (hide spoiler)] “It was the first but not last marriage of the future Reverend Willie Maxwell, and whatever else can be said about it, this much is true: it lasted, as he promised that day that it would, until death did them part.” Nonfiction. I am not Thank you Knopf Team for gifting me this Arc in exchange for an honest review. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Rating: 4,5 stars HEA: (view spoiler)[ Real life doesn’t work like that, but there’s some sort of closure, so I would say yes. (hide spoiler)] “It was the first but not last marriage of the future Reverend Willie Maxwell, and whatever else can be said about it, this much is true: it lasted, as he promised that day that it would, until death did them part.” Nonfiction. I am not used to reading this genre. And yet, when I was asked to read and review this book, I knew I had to say yes.Casey Cep must be considered a journalist, first and foremost, but in her first published work she came off as a talented writer with the uncanny ability to weave a tapestry of facts, anecdotes, superstitions in a full-length book.This is a book that unequivocally required a lot of research and patience.And given that I have been working on my Grad thesis for more than a year, I understand her approach to this craft and I deeply respect her work and ethic. Divided into three sections, The Reverend, The Lawyer and The Writer, Furious Hours talks about a serial killer, Will Maxwell, who orchestrated the death of 5 members of his family for insurance money in the 1970s.During the funeral of his last victim, the Revered was shot and the vigilante was trialed; Harper Lee, the popular novelist, sat in the public with the intention to write a book about the whole affair. To Kill a Mockingbird had been published 17 years before and she was trying to come up with an idea for a second novel.If the first section revolved around the Reverend, his background and his murders, all of them told with a great dose of humourism, the second one was about his lawyer who, after the Reverend’s death, decided to defend the vigilante.The third section, in my opinion, was the strongest one. Starting off with a recount of Harper Lee’s childhood, the years in New York spent on Mockingbird and Watchman and then the months in Kansas with Truman Capote, Mrs. Cep was able to really grasp and portray Lee’s character and her inner demons. The popularity that followed the release of To Kill a Mockingbird triggered Lee’s depression, her feelings of self-doubt and her drinking habit.Unable to be left alone in a world that demanded her attention, Lee fled New York and went home looking for some sort of solace –in vain. Fans and letters knew how to reach her, knew how to ask her for more, more, more. But writing, as Cep underlined so many times, must come from within, not by coercion. “To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It’s sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not. Everyday. Alone. Without interruption. Contrary to what most people think, there is no glamour to writing. In fact, it’s heartbreaking most of the time.” So, many years passed and the first idea for another novel finally came up when Lee heard about the trial in Alabama and the whereabouts of the Reverend.She went there, but as Cep was able to tell, her demons followed, and so her feelings of self-doubt.Cep’s writing was flawless and realistic; her sarcasm was hilarious.Will I read more of her works?Yes, without hesitation. The only question I’m left with, is: how long will it take for another book?
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  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this book. It builds in intensity. The first section on Vernon Maxwell builds the foundation for the rest of the book, essentially telling the story that Lee tried to write about. The book builds in emotional intensity as Cep has more research to analyze each succeeding subject from Maxwell to Radney to Lee, and is smart enough to realize and admit why this is. This book is very smartly written without the actual writing calling attention to itself. Ultimately, in some ways, it I really enjoyed this book. It builds in intensity. The first section on Vernon Maxwell builds the foundation for the rest of the book, essentially telling the story that Lee tried to write about. The book builds in emotional intensity as Cep has more research to analyze each succeeding subject from Maxwell to Radney to Lee, and is smart enough to realize and admit why this is. This book is very smartly written without the actual writing calling attention to itself. Ultimately, in some ways, it becomes a story of Alabama, taken as a whole. I wholeheartedly recommend this to all fans of nonfiction about Southern, literary, or true crime subjects.
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  • Jeff
    January 1, 1970
    I won this ARC in a Goodreads giveaway. This is the first book I've read by the author. Reading this book was a roller coaster ride of frustration and interest for me. Parts of the book seem to wander off into historical information that really don't bring much to the book but page filler. The book is divided in to three parts, one of which could have been completely left out and the other two should have been shortened to stay on topic. Part one is about a man who is suspected of killing 5 of h I won this ARC in a Goodreads giveaway. This is the first book I've read by the author. Reading this book was a roller coaster ride of frustration and interest for me. Parts of the book seem to wander off into historical information that really don't bring much to the book but page filler. The book is divided in to three parts, one of which could have been completely left out and the other two should have been shortened to stay on topic. Part one is about a man who is suspected of killing 5 of his family members over a period of time for the insurance money and his subsequent murder. During this we get a history lesson on life insurance that while interesting was completely unnecessary to the story. Part two is about the lawyer who helps on the insurance cases and the criminal cases of the man part one is about, and then defends the man who murdered him. Most of this section doesn't need to be here, it's almost all about his political career and his public life. Part three is about Harper Lee but only the last 70 pages even talk about her connection to the case. This was more a way to sneak a short biography of Ms Lee in to a book than to talk about a murder trail.
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  • Laura Hoffman Brauman
    January 1, 1970
    This really felt like 2 totally separate books rather than one -- both good, but completely different. The first half of the book was about the series of murders and the court case -- compelling and atmospheric. The second half felt like a biography of Harper Lee -- also compelling and an interesting read.
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  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    True crime plus! Interesting book about an Alabama serial killer (motive: insurance payouts), his attorney (who defended the killer and then defended the killer’s killer), and Harper Lee (who intended and tried to write a book about the serial killer). All in all, a well-written, interesting addition to the true crime genre.
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  • Denise Reed
    January 1, 1970
    To Kill a Mockingbird greatly influenced me when I was younger and definitely played a role in my choosing the legal field as my profession. I have always been intrigued as to why Harper Lee, for all intents and purposes, went silent after penning the classic. When I read about the release of this book, I was beyond intrigued to see if the book shed any light on the subject - it did and it didn't. Ultimately, as good a researcher as Casey Cep proved to be, it is impossible to be a mind reader. L To Kill a Mockingbird greatly influenced me when I was younger and definitely played a role in my choosing the legal field as my profession. I have always been intrigued as to why Harper Lee, for all intents and purposes, went silent after penning the classic. When I read about the release of this book, I was beyond intrigued to see if the book shed any light on the subject - it did and it didn't. Ultimately, as good a researcher as Casey Cep proved to be, it is impossible to be a mind reader. Lee had her own flaws that her fame likely exacerbated. This book is certainly not a comprehensive biography of any one part of this story - the facts are lost to history - but it is gripping nonetheless.Furious Hours is really three stories woven together into three acts. Act I - The Reverend - tells the story of Willie Maxwell, an Army Vet turned preacher turned serial killer (or a killer simply for life insurance); Act II - the Lawyer - tells the story of Tom Rodney, a Kennedy-esque politician and attorney, who made his fortune collecting the life insurance Willie Maxwell bought on his victims. When the companies wouldn’t pay, Rodney sued on behalf of his client and took half the winnings as his fee; however, when one of the victim’s family members killed Willie Maxwell, Rodney defended the killer. These first two acts are well-written glimpses into true crime, politics, and small town social dynamics in Alabama. With my fascination regarding Lee though, I was most intrigued by Act III. Act III - The Writer - the story of Nelle Harper Lee, who wanted to turn the Maxwell story into her second great book, combining the southern life and racial tension of To Kill A Mockingbird with the nonfiction work of In Cold Blood. Act III thoroughly delves into the life and legacy of Nelle Harper Lee. Apparently, Cep had access to Lee's private letters, which she quotes frequently. Lee's childhood, family life, education, college years, and her move to New York City where she eventually wrote To Kill A Mockingbird is wonderfully detailed and provides great insight into her later years when she struggled to produce further works.The writing is brilliant. I loved Act I and Act III. Occasionally Cep lost my interest, such as when she gives a world history of life insurance, or much of Act II on Tom Radney, who is a great character in the book, but even as much as I enjoy courtroom drama, it was a bit overdone for my taste. At one point Lee indicates her frustration that she doesn’t have enough good material for a follow-up masterpiece, and at times, Cep seemed to face the same challenge. The result is that the book reads less like one book and more like three novellas, but that is a minor complaint. Anyone interested in the mystery of Harper Lee, or in the bizarre, twisted case of Willie Maxwell, will find this a stellar read. 4 stars.
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  • marjorie hall-venmore
    January 1, 1970
    # The Furious Hours # Netgally I was so looking forward to reading his book mainly because it's a true story. I do tend to go for a few real stories particularly if serial killers. I enjoy them from a distance in the sense of trying to work out why they do this. This one supposed to be for insurance money. Some I actually believe they enjoy killing. Yet in some ways I can actually understand that others it power. Some that I think enjoy killing, they have to be mentally ill surely .that applies # The Furious Hours # Netgally I was so looking forward to reading his book mainly because it's a true story. I do tend to go for a few real stories particularly if serial killers. I enjoy them from a distance in the sense of trying to work out why they do this. This one supposed to be for insurance money. Some I actually believe they enjoy killing. Yet in some ways I can actually understand that others it power. Some that I think enjoy killing, they have to be mentally ill surely .that applies in many cases. Although I enjoyed this to a degree in other ways I was slightly disappointed. Although the Rerverand does come across as a fairly intelligent man in some places yet in others he tries to act intelligent but comes over as someone who really are stupid. In parts I got a little confused now that was not me after reading a few paragraphs over two to three times it's either the way the author writes or him deliberately wanted to try and confuse people. I personally believe it was him. However if I had to be truthful I can not say 100% sure. This is not meant it any disrespect to the author far from it. It just never really becomes clear and because of that confusion without any clarification one way of another I do have to mark the star rating down a bit. Yes I would read it again not literally I never read a book more than once and if I ever do it's got to be something really spectacula. What no mean about I would read again knowing what I already know. So if true stories are your thing I would not be put off by what I said about being a bit confused in a couple of places. Although I did say it wasn't me yet truthfully it could well have been me, especially I wasn't feeling too great when I read it. What I should really have done was have had a few days off of reading. I have to got pneumonia with a termreture so my apologies to everyone. Yet I do thinking you like true stories you have to at least give it a go
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  • Gem ~ Bee
    January 1, 1970
    I am a bit torn by this book as it ended up not being entirely what I expected it to be, but the writing is skilled and it is packed with knowledge. It is split in to three parts: 1 - the mystery of an American minister in the Deep South who was alleged (but never convicted) to have murdered several members of his own family for monetary gains. He was then shot and killed at point blank range in front of dozens of witnesses. 2) the trial of his killer, represented by the same lawyer that allowed I am a bit torn by this book as it ended up not being entirely what I expected it to be, but the writing is skilled and it is packed with knowledge. It is split in to three parts: 1 - the mystery of an American minister in the Deep South who was alleged (but never convicted) to have murdered several members of his own family for monetary gains. He was then shot and killed at point blank range in front of dozens of witnesses. 2) the trial of his killer, represented by the same lawyer that allowed the minister to escape justice and 3) a compact autobiography of Harper Lee, how she came from the same area, found immeasurable success and infamy from To Kill A Mockingbird but remained obsessed throughout her life with the details of this crime. The history of the murders and the detailed crime scene analysis and insurance aspects were gripping, I hadn't heard of this part of history before and found it fascinating, horrifying and it will certainly appeal to all true-crime fanatics. The trial was interesting, but frustrating as not so much detail was shared about how the law was bent, and the lawyer seemed to get off particularly lightly in the story considering he had made a living from getting people clearly guilty of murder to walk free, and then making more money from that persons murder! The autobiography of Harper Lee was very well written but unless you are a fan of hers and want to immerse yourself in the history of her writing and quite secretive life then it felt like it was a large aside to the true crime elements of the start of the book, I can understand that Cep was detailing how gripped and inspired Harper Lee was by such tragic and crazy circumstances from her hometown, but it all just didn't quite connect seamlessly for me and felt like there was a lot of facts interjected along the book that took the steam out of the suspense of the story for me.
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  • Erica
    January 1, 1970
    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 H 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!
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