In Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, Casey Cep takes on a journalistic approach, weaving together the stories of a murderous preacher, the lawyer who represented him, and the great novelist Harper Lee. While on the surface, it seems that these people are not as connected as they are, Cep develops the braids that connect them through the three distinct sections of the book.

Casey Cep

The Plot

The first section chronicles the life of Reverend Willie Maxwell and his murderous transgressions. When everyone begins turning up mysteriously dead around the Reverend and the insurance policy money rolls in, the entire town fears Maxwell and who he may kill next.

The second section follows Big Tom, the lawyer who represents Reverend Willie Maxwell in court. When the Reverend is shot in cold blood at the funeral of his stepdaughter, Big Tom also represents the shooter in his trial as well.

The third section follows Harper Lee, after she is famous for To Kill a Mockingbird and trying to write another bestseller. As we know, this never happened, but she attempted it. Harper Lee visited the Alabamian town where the Reverend committed his crimes, interviewing anyone who would help her. Big Tom became a central player for information in her quest to tell the story of the Reverend and the vigilante who stopped his murder spree.

Left: Harper Lee / Right: Reverend Willie Maxwell

The Verdict

“Superbly written … the sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write.”

– Michael Lewis, The New York Times

This book weaves together three larger than life characters to create a nonfiction novel that will have you racing through its pages. Cep kept me involved through her explorations of a religious murderer, the man who murdered the murderer, the lawyer who defended both, and the writer who tried to put it all down on paper. Casey Cep herself, finishes what Harper Lee set out to do in her writing of this book. The story is engaging and explores the racial politics of the South beginning with the Reverend and his crimes in the 1970s.

This novel is similar to the nonfiction novel format of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but sticks directly to the facts and considers deeply the political and racial background of the people it chronicles. Cep created a masterpiece with Furious Hours, and it is a true crime book that I believe will live on with true crime fans as well as fans of Harper Lee and classic literature. This book is timely for its contemplation of race, politics, crime, and literature. One of the easiest 5 Cthulhu ratings I’ve ever given.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)