There were very few things in Alabama during the 1970s that involved more risk than being related to Reverend Willie Maxwell. One by one, members of his family turned up dead. They all had one thing in common besides a close relationship to the Reverend. Unbeknownst to the recently deceased, he had taken out a multitude of life insurance policies on them and, with the help of an astute lawyer named Tom Radney, he collected tens of thousands of dollars from infuriated insurance companies and fended off investigations by frustrated state officials. When Willie himself was summarily dispatched at the funeral of his stepdaughter, Mr. Radney assumed the task of defending the man who shot him in front of 300 people. This would be a mesmerizing true crime story on its own merit, but the Maxwell case became the focus of years of research by Harper Lee, who hoped to repeat the success that her mentor, Truman Capote, had enjoyed with In Cold Blood. This is bound to be one of the year's best nonfiction books.
— Alden Graves
A crackling true crime tale morphs into much more: the story of a great writer who found her voice once and then sacrificed her privacy, risked her reputation, and poured all her intellect and creativity into a valiant effort to discover it once again. — Mike Hare
May 2019 Indie Next List
“In Cold Blood and To Kill a Mockingbird kept me up reading all night as a teen, and I can now add Furious Hours to the list of couldn’t-put-it-down tomes. I was enthralled, educated, and awestruck by Casey Cep’s well-researched and masterfully written true-crime account of a rural minister, his lawyer, and his killer. Thankfully, Cep discovered and brought to light what surely could have been Harper Lee’s second bestseller. Now…off to get a good night’s rest!”
— Beth Stroh, Viewpoint Books, Columbus, IN
Summer 2020 Reading Group Indie Next List
“A series of suspicious deaths in Alabama in the 1970s was so intriguing and sensational that Harper Lee set out to write the book about it. She didn’t. Now, Casey Cep has nested three books into one in order to tell the story Lee never did and why she didn’t. This informative and penetrating book will have tremendously wide appeal.”
— Keith Mosman, Powell's Books, Portland, OR
This “superbly written true-crime story” (Michael Lewis, The New York Times Book Review) 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.
About the Author
Casey Cep is a staff writer at The New Yorker. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in English, she earned an M.Phil in theology at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. She lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with her family. Furious Hoursis her first book. www.caseycep.com
One of the Best Books of the Year The New York Times * The Washington Post * Time * Dallas Morning News * The Economist
“Captivating. . . . A spellbinding true crime story.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A triumph on every level. One of the losses to literature is that Harper Lee never found a way to tell a gothic true-crime story she’d spent years researching. Casey Cep has excavated this mesmerizing story and tells it with grace and insight and a fierce fidelity to the truth.” —David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon
“An enthralling work of narrative nonfiction. . . . Cep delivers edge-of-your-seat courtroom drama while brilliantly reinventing Southern Gothic.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“The sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write.” —Michael Lewis, The New York Times
“A marvel.” —Time
“Impossible to put down.” —Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk
“Remarkable, thoroughly researched. . . . Cep manages the feat that all great nonfiction aspires to: combining the clean precision of fact with the urgency of gossip.” —The New York Review of Books
"Fascinating. . . . Lyrically composed." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Stunning." —Financial Times
“A rich, ambitious, beautifully written book.” —The Washington Post
“A gripping, incredibly well-written portrait of not only Harper Lee, but of mid-20th century Alabama. . . . What I didn’t see coming was the emotional response I’d have as I blazed through the last 20 pages of the book—yet there I was, weeping.” —Ilana Masad, NPR
“A brilliant take on the mystery of inspiration and the even darker mysteries of the human heart.” —People
“A compelling hybrid of a novel, at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee.” —Southern Living
“There’s a stirring poetry to Furious Hours that eludes most contemporary nonfiction. . . . [The book] fills in the gap of Lee’s post-Mockingbird career with insatiable curiosity and impressive research. It reveals not just her intellectual interests, but within them, her personal relationships and motivations.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Gripping and meticulous, Cep’s work doesn’t make us choose between fidelity and style.” —Vulture
“This riveting account of both the murders and Lee’s reporting, writing, and editing process is fascinating for its behind-the-scenes look at one of the South’s cherished creative minds.” —Garden & Gun
“Cep paints a vivid picture of the political and social makeup of a small Southern town, where family trees and the organizational charts of local institutions intersect often; where memories are long; and where the collective conscience of a community sometimes carries more weight than the law.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A riveting true crime story, and a dazzling biography of one of America’s most beloved writers.” —Bustle