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.
Furious Hours was the book club pick for the few local ladies I’ve made friends with and read with each month. It’s not something I would normally pick up of my own volition. If I read non-fiction its usually memoirs. The true-crime I read has been all because of book club. I actually read To Kill a Mockingbird last month for one of my college classes. I don’t think I would have liked this book at all if I hadn’t already read it.
This book is told in three parts. Part one follows the Reverend who is thought to have killed six people in order to collect their life insurance. But no one was ever able to prove it or take any legal action. His life ends at the funeral of his stepdaughter when one of her relatives shoots him three times and kills him. This man is arrested, then hires the lawyer that the Reverend had used to fight the insurance companies to get his money.
Part two of the book follows the lawyer. This was the part that I had the most trouble with. It goes over the lawyer’s whole history. His political goals and attempts to be elected in several elections. I found myself wondering what the point of his part was and why he was given a whole section of this book. His life history was not needed. I understand his role in the story but it was not deserving of an entire third of this book. When we finally get to the part where the lawyer is defending the man that killed the Reverend, the story picks up again. I really enjoyed the process that the lawyer takes to make sure to win the court trial. It was really interesting to see his process and the things he did to win.
The third and final part is where we finally got to the details about Harper Lee. I only enjoyed learning more about her life because I’d actually read her book. From a writer’s point of view, it was really interesting to read about her publication journey and then absolutely terrifying to see her completely fail to write another book.
Overall, I liked parts of this book and didn’t understand the inclusion of other parts. It was a mostly interesting book that was written well enough like a story for me to enjoy. If you like true crime and/or Harper Lee, you might like this book.
Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.