Length: 352 pages
Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 15 minutes
First Published: 2019
Casey Cep looks at a fascinating true crime story from the 1970s, where Reverend Willie Maxwell was accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money, a case that Harper Lee spent years investigating in hopes to turn into a book. Although the state tried to prosecute him, Maxwell was acquitted with the help of his savvy lawyer Tom Radney. Then, at the funeral of Maxwell’s niece whom he is assumed to have killed, a man shot Maxwell in cold blood and is acquitted of that murder with the help of the same Tom Radney.
I’m not generally one for true crime, but Furious Hours sucked me in with the enthralling case of Willie Maxwell. As the body count keeps climbing, the twists and turns and frustrations of police had me hooked. The book is split into thirds, discussing Willie Maxwell and the suspicious family deaths, the trial of Maxwell’s murderer, and then Harper Lee and her investigation. Furious Hours is written more for true crime fans than Harper Lee fans. The first two parts were fast-paced and intriguing, but Harper Lee’s addition, while an interesting and informative connection, slowed the book considerably.
Furious Hours masterfully brings together the tales of a serial killer in 1970s Alabama and of Harper Lee, the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who tried to write his story.
Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members, but with the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative assassinated him 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 himself. Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who spent a year in town reporting on the Maxwell case and many more trying to finish the book she called The Reverend.
Cep brings this remarkable story to life, from the horrifying murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South, while offering a deeply moving portrait of one of our most revered writers.
Quotes from Furious Hours
Water, like violence, is difficult to contain.
Nobody recognized her. Harper Lee was well known, but not by sight, and if she hadn’t introduced herself, it’s unlikely that anyone in the courtroom would have figured out who she was.
History isn’t what happened but what gets written down.
She had enough books to read–and movies to see, and museums to visit–to last her several lifetimes.
About Casey Cep
Casey Cep is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Cep is also the author of Furious Hours. She currently lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Visit the author’s website →