Furious Hours (Cep)

The Furious Hours:  Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
Casey Cep, 2019
Knopf Doubleday
336 pp.

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 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1985
Where—Cordova, Maryland, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard University; M.Phil, Oxford University; Yale University Divinity School
Currently—lives in Chesapeake Bay Area, Maryland

Casey Cep grew up in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay area, where she still lives and writes. She graduated from Harvard with a degree in English and earned an M.Phil in theology at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. She is presently studying at Yale Divinity School in order to be ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Cep's work has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times, and New Republic, among other publications. The Furious Hours (2019) is her first book. (Adapted from the publisher.)

Book Reviews
There are two intertwined mysteries at the heart of Furious Hours, Casey Cep’s meticulously researched narrative about an Alabama preacher accused of multiple murders, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who tried and failed to tell his story. The first section of the book, a spellbinding [is] true crime story.… [T]he other mystery proved even knottier. It involved reconstructing years of investigative work done by Harper Lee, who was fascinated by the Maxwell murders and worked on a true crime book about the case that she titled “The Reverend.” To this day, it remains unclear how much she wrote, why she stopped writing or whether she finished the book.
Alexander Alter - New York Times

It’s one measure of just how rich Casey Cep’s material is, and how artfully she handles it, that I have given away only about a tenth of the interest and delight contained within just the first third or so of her book. She reminded me all over again how much of good storytelling is leading the reader to want to know the things you are about to tell him, while still leaving him to feel that his interest was all his idea.
Michael Lewis - New York Time Book Review

If you’re a Harper Lee fan, come for the juicy tale of the true-crime story she wanted to write but never did.… If you’re not, come for Cep’s writing, which is so good that you won’t mind a side trip into the history of life insurance. Basically, if you love superb nonfiction, pick up a copy of Furious Hours; you may not put it down again for several of your own.
Bethanne Patrick - Washington Post

E]ssentially two books—a thriller and a biography—that Ms. Cep stitches into an intriguing and occasionally gripping whole. The only problem is that the enigma of Harper Lee is far more fascinating than the criminal trial she ultimately abandoned.… [F]or a true-crime tale, it is awkwardly devoid of suspense.… Ms. Cep pads this story with thoughtful digressions on Alabama’s politics and full profiles of Maxwell and Radney, but she strangely makes no mention of Lee until halfway through the book. When Harper Lee finally does arrive, it is a relief. Ms. Cep’s brisk and lively account of the woman’s life offers few surprises, but it is engrossing all the same.
Emily Brobrow - Wall Street Journal

(Starred review) [A] brilliant account of Harper Lee’s failed attempt to write a true crime book.… Meticulously researched, this is essential reading for anyone interested in Lee and American literary history.
Publishers Weekly

By fully detailing the crimes before Lee even appears, Cep allows readers to see the case through Lee's eyes…. Above all, this is a book about inspiration and how a passion for the mysteries of humanity can cause an undeniable creative spark. A well-tempered blend of true crime and literary lore.
Kirkus Reviews

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