Furious Hours by Casey Cep

Furious Hours

Casey Cep

Casey Cep brings the story of an Alabama serial killer to life, as well as a deeply moving portrait of Harper Lee and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

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In Furious Hours, Casey Cep unravels the mystery surrounding Harper Lee's first and only work of nonfiction, and the shocking true crimes at the center of it

"A triumph on every level . . . Casey Cep has excavated this mesmerizing story and tells it with grace and insight and a fierce fidelity to the truth." --David Grann, best-selling author of Killers of the Flower Moon


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.


Advance Galley Reviews

Having taught To Kill A Mockingbird for many years, I was excited to read Furious Hours. I knew Harper Lee worked with Truman Capote doing research for his book In Cold Blood. Becoming a recluse after all of the notoriety of TKAM, I did not know that she was in the courtroom covering the vigilante killer of Rev. Maxwell taking notes for a possible book. I think the author ,Casey CEP, did a wonderful job keeping the reader engaged in her story. This is a book that I will read a second time.

Expired before I could read it.

I was so excited to receive this ARC of Furious Hours mainly because it involved Harper Lee. I visited Monroeville this past summer (which was so interesting and fun). A big thanks to First to Read and Penguin Random House for this ARC. This story involved a serial murderer in Alabama, the story of his attorney and Harper Lee researching this murder story. I felt like every now and then the author went on a tangent on past history that really didn't have much to do with the story - this is where it lost my attention. Other parts were so interesting and full of facts which related to the story, I couldn't wait to see what happened next. Because of the inconsistent story telling, for me, it was just an average read.

"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 Burns In 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 Maxwell Charismatic 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

Divided into three parts, Furious Hours is a bit like reading three different stories, although they are connected. While I found the first part the most interesting, I did enjoy the whole book. And it's impossible to have watched To Kill a Mockingbird and not want more about Harper Lee. I could've done with a little less detail in some part of the book, especially the details about law and life insurance, but all in all, this one is well worth the read.

I really loved this book. Cep did a great job weaving together three stories and making a comprehensive book out of the different pieces. It's a great read for those interested in true crime or those interested in literature. It's the perfect read for those who are interested in BOTH true crime and literature.

I will definitely buy this novel when it comes out. Casey Cep does an amazing job putting all of the stories together to make one book. Such an amazing look at Lee, who is one of my favorite authors. Kudos!

This was an extraordinary book, that actually felt like three stories for the price of one. The three sections, focusing on Willie Maxwell, Big Tom Radney, and Harper Lee, all felt very different in style and substance, but yet somehow worked together when packaged as one book. That doesn't always happen, and for a little while (in the Big Tom section) I wasn't sure it would, but the Harper Lee piece really brought it all home and tied things together beautifully. This was a fascinating look at three very different lives that intersected in major ways, although not always directly, and the different focal points and perspectives were well-presented, thoughtful, and highly entertaining to read. I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

This book was front loaded with a juicy true crime story and some intriguing side trips. As the boo progressed, I found it lost steam. The story of Reverend Maxwell was fascinating - five of his relatives died suddenly, shortly after he had taken out life insurance on them. Proving he had done it was beyond local law officials though, and then one day, Maxwell himself was shot dead at a funeral. Along the way we learn about the histories of life insurance, the insanity defense, and the true crime genre.

I could not put it down. The writing was great, the research was thorough and meticulous, and I learned a lot about Lee while reading this book. Cep did an amazing job with this book, putting together and researching everything, and then putting it into words. *Thank you to Penguin Randomhouse and the First Reads Program for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

The plot here was interesting, but I wasn't a fan of the writing. At times, it felt bloated. I might have liked it better if it was just a long magazine piece as opposed to a 300-page book.

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.

Please get your hands on this book whenever you can! It’s a nonfiction crime story that reads a little like fiction, and I loved every part of it. Complete with life insurance fraud, voodoo, and courtroom drama, the book brings Harper Lee into the mix when she attended the trials, hoping to write a story about the accused serial killer, Willie Maxwell. I am hoping that Casey Cep will continue writing more of these stories.

Casey Cep wrote a wonderful and meticulously researched piece about a man by the name of Reverend Willie Maxwell, who by all the facts presented, got away with the murder of five people on whom he collected several life insurance policies. What made this even more interesting was that Maxwell was murdered by a family member in front of 300 witnesses, and was acquitted. I loved this part of the book because Cep places the murders in the context of time and place. I learned about the history of life insurance, and how African Americans were scammed by it. I learned about voodoo and also how difficult it is to do research in the black community. I felt transported to a different era in American history in the state of Alabama. I like books like this, where I can learn. I find all the details fascinating. The second part of the book is about Harper Lee and it is basically a biographical piece. Cep connects her to the Maxwell case. In fact, Lee spent ten years in the prime of her life researching the Maxwell story, hoping to write a true crime story like "In Cold Blood," where she did a great deal of the research with Truman Capote, who was her closest childhood friend. It was interesting to read about Harper Lee, who really guarded her privacy. She didn't want anyone to write her biography until after her death. She wrote constantly after publishing "To Kill a Mockingbird," but published very little after that book. Her relationship with Truman Capote was fascinating, but overall she seemed to live life as a hermit, and had strict rules for her few friends and her family members about not talking about her famous book, her writing, or her drinking. As the book neared toward the end, I began to feel tired of reading about Harper Lee. There just wasn't enough interesting information about her to make her that compelling. Overall though, this was an extremely intelligent and well-written book, the kind of book I most enjoy reading.

Furious Hours is an interesting concept. The mixture of true crime with biographical information of a reclusive author is definitely worth a read. You can tell the book is very well researched as it gets into a great bit of detail. Sometimes I felt like it was too much detail and slowed things down to the point where it nearly lost my interest. Fortunately, I pushed forward and would find something new and fascinating. To fans of true crime or Harper Lee, I would recommend this book.

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!

I 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. We're 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 have 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. Casey 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 novel that does justice to both stories told. I have been anticipating this novel 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.

 


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