Had things gone according to plan, Harper Lee would have followed To Kill a Mockingbird with a true-crime book called The Reverend, an account of Willie Maxwell, an African American preacher from Alabama accused of killing five members of his family, one by one, in the 1970s. Determined to stick to the facts--unlike her friend Truman Capote, whose In Cold Blood Lee had helped with--Lee spent a year in Maxwell’s hometown reporting the story, but never managed to get the book written. Working from Lee’s notes, letters, and the historical record, Casey Cep, in her powerful debut, has. Furious Hours (Knopf, $26.95) in fact is three books in one. Along with the account of how and why Maxwell committed the murders—including the possible role played by voodoo—Cep examines the relationship between Maxwell and his lawyer, a white liberal who defended Maxwell through several trials, and then, after Maxwell was shot at his stepdaughter’s funeral, defended his killer. Clearly, Lee was on to a great story, and Cep adds to it with a rare inside look at one of our most reclusive writers, delving into Lee’s complicated and often contradictory attitudes to race and the South and correcting the many misunderstandings that have crept into the Lee legend.
Furious Hours by Casey Cep