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Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last…
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Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (edition 2019)

by Casey Cep (Author)

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7365023,688 (3.87)83
New York Times Best Seller   "Compelling . . . at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee. If To Kill a Mockingbird was one of your favorite books growing up, you should add Furious Hours to your reading list today." --Southern Living   Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell's murderer was acquitted--thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.   Sitting in the audience during the vigilante's trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more years working on her own version of the case. Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country's most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.… (more)
Member:KateFinney
Title:Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
Authors:Casey Cep (Author)
Info:Knopf (2019), Edition: 1st, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
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Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

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I suppose I can't be too irritated with someone for putting out a book that's seemingly got no more "so what?" to it than the fact that the novelist Harper Lee has a connection to some of the people and events discussed here—after all, the mention of Lee in the book's subtitle is exactly what got me to pick it up in the first place.

But while there are some nicely written passages here, Casey Cep really didn't produce much more here than a heavily-padded New Yorker article that trades on Lee's fame and the faded notoriety of a fairly run-of-the-mill serial killer. (What serial killers do is horrific, but they themselves always remind me of Hannah Arendt's line about the banality of evil.) There are times when Cep gestures to a much more complex story that could be told about race in America—about how a white woman from a well-to-do background rose to fame and wealth thanks to a novel that made white progressives feel good about themselves, but who couldn't find a way to do justice to a more unsettling story about violence and fear within a Black community—but seems unwilling or unable to face those issues head on.

So what's left after that? Well, a story of multiple members of the extended Maxwell family, most likely murdered for life insurance money, but whose stories and legacy largely recede into the background; the story of a defense lawyer who seems more small town huckster than progressive crusader; and a writer who, when not writing, seems more than a little dull, if not outright unpleasant. Cep clearly hoped that the grouping of these three disparate topics together would generate its own kind of interest—but at the end of the book, I'm still left asking "so what?" ( )
  siriaeve | Oct 12, 2021 |
The story of Harper Lee and the crime book she was planning to write--and never did. Cep weaves the original crime story, the life story of a lawyer involved, and Harper Lee to explain what happened and what didn't and why. ( )
  spounds | Oct 6, 2021 |
Divided into three parts, this book reads like three very different books. Section One is true crime, Section Two is legal drama, and Section Three is Literary History, a full biography of Harper Lee. Each section is well written and fascinating. Tonally, however, they are vastly different and the breakneck genre shifts interrupt the momentum of the book. Each section was very compelling and while individually I enjoyed them all, their juxtaposition did them no favors.

Still an amazing book that I 10/10 recommend, if not reading all of, picking and choosing the sections that seem the most interesting. ( )
  astronomist | Oct 3, 2021 |
Mixed thoughts on this one... on the one hand all three sections were interesting, and in general the book was well-written. After reading about Lee's disparagement of the fictionalization and fudging of true crime writing you can see why Cep stuck with the facts as known, with little artistic embellishment. This doesn't produce as powerful a narrative as a nonfiction novel like In Cold Blood, but you never feel like you're being duped or led along.

The organization of the book, however, felt a little odd to me. If, as seems from the first half, the book is primarily about the Reverend Willie Maxwell and his lawyer cum makeshift prosecutor Big Tom Radney, including so much info in the back half about Nelle Harper Lee's life outside of her investigation of the case seems mostly irrelevant.

If, on the other hand, Cep wanted Furious Hours to mostly be about Lee's research and her unwritten book, then waiting so long to introduce her into the story seems very odd, especially since all of the info about the Reverend and the Lawyer could have been introduced through the lens of Lee's reporting. Maybe that was the intent, but there simply wasn't enough info about her investigation available to frame the story in that way?

Unfortunately, whatever the reasons, the result feels like a book that starts as one thing (the story Maxwell's fraud, murders, and his own death) and then gets distracted halfway through by how interested the author is in the life of Harper Lee. Understandable, as her life is interesting! But still.

Okay, excuse a long tangential comparison, but: This kind of reminds me of my problems with the novel Silence of the Women, which started as the Trojan War from a woman's perspective but ended up just being mostly about Achilles in the second half. There's nothing wrong with writing a book about Achilles, just as there's nothing wrong with writing a book about Harper Lee. But it's just a little odd when you make a point in the book about how women's voices are suppressed in war and then write about a man's perspective, or when you make a point in the book about how true crime is often about white victims and white heroes, and then shift your focus from black men and women killed, and the black man Robert Burns who avenged them, to the life of the white author only peripherally involved with the case? I dunno. It's obviously more complicated than that. But I dunno. ( )
  misslevel | Sep 22, 2021 |
Harper Lee never wrote another book after To Kill A Mockingbird, but she sure had a lot of ideas. This book explores Lee’s attempt in the 1970’s to write a book about the murder of one Rev. Willie Maxwell, an African-American evangelical preacher, con man and murderer. The book should have written itself, but it never was completed.

I hd a hard time with this book because we hear nary a peep about Harper Lee until halfway through the book, and then it’s mostly about Harper Lee and not the subject at hand. I guess if you’re a total Harper Lee fan you’ll love this book. AS for me, I returned my Audible copy for something else. ( )
  etxgardener | Sep 17, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
She explains as well as it is likely ever to be explained why Lee went silent after “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (The clue’s in Cep’s title.) And it’s here, in her descriptions of another writer’s failure to write, that her book makes a magical little leap, and it goes from being a superbly written true-crime story to the sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write.
 
Lee spent many years working on the project, but it never saw the light of day. Instead, more than four decades later, we have Cep’s absorbing new volume, which succeeds in telling the story that Nelle Harper Lee could not and offers an affecting account of Lee’s attempt to give meaning to a startling series of events.
 

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Casey Cepprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carrow, JennyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huber, HillaryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lew, BettyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mapping Specialists Ltd.Cartographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ray, B. J.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schultz, KathrynAuthor photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
StillFxCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
We are bound by a common anguish.

------Harper Lee
Dedication
For my father and my mother,
who gave me a pocket watch,
then taught me to tell time
and everything else
First words
Nobody recognized her.
Quotations
No longer legally able to subjugate other people, wealthy white southerners turned their attention to nature instead. The untamed world seemed to them at worst like a mortal danger, seething with disease and constantly threatening disaster, and at best like a terrible waste. The numberless trees could be timber, the forests could be farms, the malarial swamps could be drained and turned to solid ground, wolves and bears and other fearsome predators could be throw rugs, taxidermy, and dinner. And as for the rivers, why should they get to play while people had to work? In the words of the president of the Alabama Power Company, Thomas Martin, “Every loafing stream is loafing at the public expense.” (p.7)
The boll weevil came north from Mexico and destroyed the cotton crop; the Communist Party came south to organize sharecroppers, and horrific violence followed in its wake. The Great Depression came from Wall Street and stayed in Alabama for a long, long time, longer than the boys who traveled to the local C.C.C. camp for a spell before returning to New Jersey or New York. (p. 11)
Violence has a way of destroying everything but itself. A murdered person’s name always threatens to become synonymous with her murder; a murdered person’s death always threatens to eclipse her life. That was especially true of an economically marginal black woman in Alabama. (p. 25)
...southerners were steeped in a culture that gave them something to do when the world was alarming or incomprehensible. In that, of course, they were not alone; like banshees in Ireland or fairy glens in Scotland or the ghosts and goblins of the Tohoku region of Japan, the influence of voodoo culture in the South pervaded its landscapes and enchanted its people, regardless of race, from cradle to grave. (p. 45)
it was better to believe that, in the face of conjuring, there was nothing that law enforcement and the judicial system could do than to believe that, in the face of terrible crimes, they had not done enough. Supernatural explanations flourish where law and order fails, which is why, as time passed and more people died, the stories about the Reverend grew stronger, stranger, and, if possible, more sinister. (p. 46)
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New York Times Best Seller   "Compelling . . . at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee. If To Kill a Mockingbird was one of your favorite books growing up, you should add Furious Hours to your reading list today." --Southern Living   Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell's murderer was acquitted--thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.   Sitting in the audience during the vigilante's trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more years working on her own version of the case. Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country's most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

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