After years in NY hiding from her fans and (mostly) not writing, Harper Lee comes back to Alabama to cover a trial and a story that is stranger than fiction. People around Rev. Willie Maxwell keep dying and he happens to have life insurance policies on them. A former law maker goes from defending Maxwell through the years and helping him collect on these policies to defending Robert Burns, the man who kills Maxwell at the funeral of one of the victims. Lee attends the trial taking copious notes and carefully researches the story but that book is never published nor is the manuscript ever found. Journalist Casey Cep writes an intriguing and illuminating book about the complexities of the case and the paradox of justice in the south, finishing with the lesser known story of Lee’s upbringing and her subsequent escape after the furor of To Kill a Mockingbird. This is full of bizarre characters and interesting history, and leaves us yearning for Lee’s true crime book that never was. -Sydne, Atlanta
Harper Lee’s last trial to cover never made it to press, but Casey Cep delivers with a masterpiece that feels like three books in one. First, she covers the crime (near Harper Lee & Truman Capote’s hometown), then she covers the defense attorney, then she gives a rare insight into the last chapter of Harper Lee’s life. Southern gothic at its best!
— Pam Brown Senior National Account Manager Penguin Random House
May 2019 Indie Next List
“In Cold Blood and To Kill a Mockingbird kept me up reading all night as a teen, and I can now add Furious Hours to the list of couldn’t-put-it-down tomes. I was enthralled, educated, and awestruck by Casey Cep’s well-researched and masterfully written true-crime account of a rural minister, his lawyer, and his killer. Thankfully, Cep discovered and brought to light what surely could have been Harper Lee’s second bestseller. Now…off to get a good night’s rest!”
— Beth Stroh, Viewpoint Books, Columbus, IN
Summer 2020 Reading Group Indie Next List
“A series of suspicious deaths in Alabama in the 1970s was so intriguing and sensational that Harper Lee set out to write the book about it. She didn’t. Now, Casey Cep has nested three books into one in order to tell the story Lee never did and why she didn’t. This informative and penetrating book will have tremendously wide appeal.”
— Keith Mosman, Powell's Books, Portland, OR
This “superbly written true-crime story” (Michael Lewis, The New York Times Book Review) masterfully brings together the tales of a serial killer in 1970s Alabama and of Harper Lee, the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who tried to write his story.
Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members, but with the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative assassinated him 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 himself. Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who spent a year in town reporting on the Maxwell case and many more trying to finish the book she called The Reverend.
Cep brings this remarkable story to life, from the horrifying murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South, while offering a deeply moving portrait of one of our most revered writers.
About the Author
Casey Cep is a staff writer at The New Yorker. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in English, she earned an M.Phil in theology at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. She lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with her family. Furious Hoursis her first book. www.caseycep.com
One of the Best Books of the Year The New York Times * The Washington Post * Time * Dallas Morning News * The Economist
“Captivating. . . . A spellbinding true crime story.” —The New York Times Book Review
“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, author of Killers of the Flower Moon
“An enthralling work of narrative nonfiction. . . . Cep delivers edge-of-your-seat courtroom drama while brilliantly reinventing Southern Gothic.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“The sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write.” —Michael Lewis, The New York Times
“A marvel.” —Time
“Impossible to put down.” —Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk
“Remarkable, thoroughly researched. . . . Cep manages the feat that all great nonfiction aspires to: combining the clean precision of fact with the urgency of gossip.” —The New York Review of Books
"Fascinating. . . . Lyrically composed." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Stunning." —Financial Times
“A rich, ambitious, beautifully written book.” —The Washington Post
“A gripping, incredibly well-written portrait of not only Harper Lee, but of mid-20th century Alabama. . . . What I didn’t see coming was the emotional response I’d have as I blazed through the last 20 pages of the book—yet there I was, weeping.” —Ilana Masad, NPR
“A brilliant take on the mystery of inspiration and the even darker mysteries of the human heart.” —People
“A compelling hybrid of a novel, at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee.” —Southern Living
“There’s a stirring poetry to Furious Hours that eludes most contemporary nonfiction. . . . [The book] fills in the gap of Lee’s post-Mockingbird career with insatiable curiosity and impressive research. It reveals not just her intellectual interests, but within them, her personal relationships and motivations.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Gripping and meticulous, Cep’s work doesn’t make us choose between fidelity and style.” —Vulture
“This riveting account of both the murders and Lee’s reporting, writing, and editing process is fascinating for its behind-the-scenes look at one of the South’s cherished creative minds.” —Garden & Gun
“Cep paints a vivid picture of the political and social makeup of a small Southern town, where family trees and the organizational charts of local institutions intersect often; where memories are long; and where the collective conscience of a community sometimes carries more weight than the law.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A riveting true crime story, and a dazzling biography of one of America’s most beloved writers.” —Bustle