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Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  21,158 ratings  ·  3,217 reviews
The story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

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
Hardcover, 314 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Knopf Publishing Group
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Casey Cep Hi, thanks so much for this great question! If you make your way to Chapter 22 of the book, a chapter called "Horseshoe Bend," then you'll see that "f…moreHi, thanks so much for this great question! If you make your way to Chapter 22 of the book, a chapter called "Horseshoe Bend," then you'll see that "furious hours" comes from a talk that Harper Lee gave on the historian Albert James Pickett. There's more about the phrase in that chapter, and more about Lee's connections to the Creek War Battle of Horseshoe Bend.(less)
Cornmaven I would not recommend listening to this; get the print version if you can. Huber is, despite her awards, an awful reader. She did not do Cep's book ju…moreI would not recommend listening to this; get the print version if you can. Huber is, despite her awards, an awful reader. She did not do Cep's book justice at all.(less)

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Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Divided into three parts, Furious Hours tells the true story of Alabama serial killer the Reverend Willie Maxwell. In the 1970’s he was accused of murdering five family members in order to collect the life insurance money. With the help of a very clever lawyer, ( although rumour had it that Maxwell used voodoo to aid his success) he escaped justice, but at the funeral of his last victim, he was shot dead by one Robert Burns.

The first part of the book illustrates the life of Willie Maxwell, the m
Julie is on vacation
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep is a 2019 Random House publication.

The case involving the Reverend Willie Maxwell is one I was completely unfamiliar with. I never heard of him, or Robert Burns or their attorney, Tom Radney- until I picked up this book. As this was all unchartered territory for me, I found the case riveting. I could hardly believe what I was reading. The ease in which Maxwell purchased life insurance policies, not just for relatives, b
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely fabulous and gripping! The novel tells three incredible stories of Reverend Maxwell, a murderer of five members of his own family, of Tom Radney, a lawyer who defended both Maxwell and the man who eventually killed Maxwell, and of Harper Lee, who came to the trial and followed it in hope of writing another novel. Personally, I found Part 3 most interesting as I knew next to nothing about the author of one of the greatest American classics. Casey Cep wrote a gem in the category of non- ...more
Joey R.
2.5 Stars — I decided to read “Furious Hours” after reading a magazine review of this book and being very interested in the subject matter of an Alabama serial killer that I never heard of before. The author did a good job of researching certain aspects of the life story and background of the Reverend Willie Maxwell, who was suspected of killing five of his relatives in the 1970’s. His case drew statewide publicity after Rev. Maxwell was shot and killed at the funeral service of his daughter (wh ...more
Peter (on hiatus)
Furious Hours is an engrossing documentary style book, which brings three enthralling stories together around a series of events involving a serial killer. Each part focuses on the perspective of a renowned personality; Reverend Willie Maxwell (Serial Killer, Preacher), Tom Radney (Lawyer) and Harper Lee (Author).

The structure of the book feels more like 3 shorter stories with a theme, rather than 3 integrated parts in the one story. Each part covers the biographical background of each c
Diane S ☔
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
She wrote one book, a book that defined a time period. A book that made her wealthy, but took away the privacy she cherished. She became recognizable everywhere, and though writing was her passion, this she little expected. Why did she write only one book, when everyone who knew her said writing was her passion, that she was always writing.

The case of the Alabama minister, a man whose nearest and dearest were murdered for their insurance money. He pretty much got away with it, until the last and
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: legal, true-crime
“One by one, over a period of seven years, six people close to the Reverend [Willie Maxwell] had died under circumstances that nearly everyone agreed were suspicious and some deemed supernatural. Through all of the resulting investigations, the Reverend was represented by a lawyer named Tom Radney, whose presence in the courtroom that day wouldn’t have been remarkable had he not been there to defend the man who killed his former client…Reporters from the Associated Press and other wire services, ...more
Casey Cep has written a fascinating account of Harper Lee's obsession with writing a true crime novel about the Reverend Willie Maxwell, who murdered five family members in Alabama for the insurance policies he took out on them and got away with it. After giving a eulogy for his stepdaughter (one of the five relatives he was suspected of killing) at her funeral in 1977 he was infamously shot dead in front of 300 people by Robert Burns, an uncle of the dead girl. Harper Lee not only attended Burn ...more
JanB(on vacation till October)
Despite the title, Harper Lee doesn’t appear on these pages until the last 1/3 of the book and even then it was about her life and her writing, not a trial.

The book is divided into 3 sections, with a thin thread connecting them all: the first dealing with the serial murderer, Rev. Willie Maxwell, the second was about the lawyer connected to the case, and the third on Harper Lee. The Rev. was an enigma and it’s shocking that he was able to get away with his crimes for so long but his story was to
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best nonfiction books I've read this year.

"Furious Hours" is both the story of a true crime in 1970s Alabama and the story of famous writer Harper Lee. I was interested in the particulars of the crime, which involved a sketchy preacher who was linked to a series of suspicious deaths, and I just lovedlovedloved the section on Harper Lee, which included interesting details of her longtime friendship with Truman Capote.

I'm impressed with how Casey Cep managed this feat: she wrot
Oct 15, 2019 rated it liked it
To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite novels. In a nonfiction reading year, I managed to reread it for the fourth time this spring. Naturally, when I noticed a new book that features Harper Lee, I had my curiosity piqued. Casey Cep is a debut author, who has studied literary fiction. Her impetus for this book is a discovering why Lee, who wrote one of the most beloved books in American history, only wrote one book. Cep takes readers back to a court trial in Lee’s native Alabama in 197 ...more
Mark Porton
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Furious Hours by Casey Pep is a well written true-crime story involving a number of very suspicious murders in Alabama in the 1970s.

The dubious Reverend Willie Maxwell is suspected of murdering five, yes FIVE, of his family members, all having insurance policies where Maxwell was the primary beneficiary. Many of these policies were taken out under dodgy circumstances. He made thousands of dollars as a result of these policies. The main reason Maxwell escaped conviction was down to the brilliant
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
4.5 stars

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 foll
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Harper Lee was intrigued with the true-crime story of the Reverend Willie Maxwell. She did an amazing amount of research, and then floundered when she tried to write a tale that would appeal to her many fans. Cep has succeeded where Lee failed.

Willie Maxwell was born in Alabama in 1925, served two tours in the Army, and earned a Good Conduct Medal. He married Mary Lou in 1947, worked two jobs and preached at three different churches. At least, he did so until people around him started dying—firs
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The mysterious author, Harper Lee, a fascinating story of murder in the South and a study of the maddening creative process of writing a book. I especially enjoyed reading about Lee and her
struggles with the absorbing research of the infamous Alabama trial. Highly recommend.
May 22, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
It is rare that I can't finish a book - especially a murder book! But my god. This is not a book about a serial killer. This is a book that gives a painstaking detailed history of the largest lake in Alabama and the life insurance industry. I'm almost halfway through and it's too unbearable to finish. It really feels as though the author wanted to tell the story of the murders but didn't have enough material so she just fluffed it up - but with the dryest, most boring fluff to ever exist. Google ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, nonfiction

I don't often read nonfiction. Too often, it’s dry and doesn’t flow. When I do read it, I insist that it flows as well as a good novel. I also expect it to teach me something. And while I’m not a big true crime fan, I love a good murder mystery.

And the first half of the book is a hell of a story. The Reverend Willie Maxwell loses wives and relatives like no one’s business. Funny thing, how they keep dying on him. Lucky for him he had all those insurance policies on them. The state keeps trying
Lou (nonfiction fiend)
I must start by saying that Furious Hours is probably the best true crime work I have had the pleasure of reading; it has so much more to it than one would initially imagine and that's what makes it such a gripping book. It's an amalgamation of true crime, American history, legal thriller and biography of Harper Lee, which is a very interesting mix and works well. For many years Lee was obsessed with one particular case - that of church minister Reverend Willie Maxwell, and set in the context of ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly brilliant. I was fascinated both by this tale of an actual serial killer in Alabama (and his murder), and the desperate way that Harper Lee tried (and failed) to find in his story and trial her own second act. Casey Cep is also a gifted stylist: this is a work of non-fiction written with elegance and beauty and grace.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee was the first book of author Casey Cep and an amazing debut it was. Ms. Cep has a delightful way of presenting factual data, of which she researched diligently. Basically the book focuses on the serial murders of a lot of relatives of the Reverend, who coincidentally happened to have taken out large insurance policies on the victims. Also central to this tale is the larger-than-life defense attorney, Tom Radney. He first defended the ...more
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seventeen years since the publication of, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee lat in a courtroom in Alabama. She was planning to write a true crime book about the case she was watching, but that book was never published. In this volume, author, Casey Cep, writes not only a compelling explanation as to why this book never appeared, but also combines true crime and biography, in a riveting account of a crime and the characters involved.

She begins by looking at the murder victim, the Reverend Willi
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book can be classified as both true crime and biography. What has made it worth reading for me is what I learned about Harper Lee. I I have a deeper understanding of her as a person. I am comfortable with the author’s, Casey Cep’s, presentation of facts. One has cause to be wary given the huge amount of hearsay and rumors that have swirled about Lee in the press.

After writing her famed novel To Kill a Mockingbird everyone has been begging for more. Rumors said Lee was working on another bo
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud And The Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep is a great true crime book it's based around 3 main characters a serial killer ( The Reverend Willie Maxwell) the lawyer (Tom Radney) who defended the reverend and the other killer ( you definitely need to read it to find out what that one did 😏) and Harper Lee an author made famous by her fabulous book To kill a mockingbird, it's also about her issues with the fame after it.
Harper Lee had a friend from childhood (Capote
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a true crime story about Reverend Willie Maxwell who was implicated in the deaths of 6 people over the course of 7 years. He was tried and acquitted once and was murdered by the uncle of his purported final victim before charges could be brought against him. Suspiciously, he had bought life insurance polices insuring the victims; in the case of his second wife, at least 17 policies. The accusations against Maxwell kept his attorney, John Thomas Radney, busy for years. Ironically, it was ...more
Louise Wilson
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of an Alabama serial killer and the true - crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the rears after To Kill A Mocking Bird.

The Reverend Willie Maxwell is a preacher who's been accused of killing five of his family members for the insurance money. But Willie always got off scott-free. He was shot in front of three hundred people. The man who shot him was defended by the lawyer that Willie used. He also managed to get the shooter off despite there being several witnesses. This
3.75 stars rounded up - Reverend William Maxwell was an enigma in his lifetime and even after reading this book, he remains so. As Casey Cep relates in her book, not much is known of Maxwell’s early years, but after a stint in the army, he returned home to Coosa County, Alabama, where he met and married Mary Lou Edwards. Although Maxwell worked at powdering (blasting rock) and pulpwooding, his main vocation became the ministry. Known for his eloquent speech, snazzy dress style, and fervent praye ...more
Elizabeth George
For anyone who loved To Kill a Mockingbird (full disclosure: I've read it at least ten times and probably more), this book is an exploration of how Harper Lee was defeated in her attempt to follow in Truman Capote's footsteps and chronicle a true crime as he did with In Cold Blood. The author follows three separate threads in the book. The first is the murder of Reverend Willie Maxwell who was shot and killed in front of 300 witnesses at a funeral; the second is an exploration of the life of the ...more
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I chose to read this book even though I normally wouldn't be drawn to a story about a serial killer. I was drawn to it because it was Harper Lee's (AKA Nelle Lee) story - a mystery in itself.

Furious Hours is a description of Andrew Jackson's final engagement with the Creek Indians, but it also describes the lifetime of tormented hours Lee spent battling her writing demons, those demons that prevented her from completing her nonfiction account of the Maxwell murders. Perhaps it also describes the
"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 w
Rachel Reads Ravenously

Nonfiction November is a month long reading initiative that challenges you to read four or more nonfiction books during the month of November.

4 stars!

I listened to this book because it was part of my local book club and I was curious. I am not normally a great nonfiction reader, but this book sounded compelling and I was curious to dive in. Furious Hours is about a murder that happens in a small town. At a funeral, a reverend is shot down in front of a whole room of people, and his murderer
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Casey Cep is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her first book Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee was an instant New York Times bestseller. You can follow her on Twitter (@cncep) and Instagram (@caseycep).

Articles featuring this book

The true-crime genre is experiencing a huge boom, and it comes as no surprise—podcasts, documentaries, and TV shows have us all addicted to...
86 likes · 13 comments
“Water, like violence, is difficult to contain.” 6 likes
“He might not have believed in what he preached, he might not have believed in voodoo,” she wrote of the Reverend, “but he had a profound and abiding belief in insurance.” 4 likes
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