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Furious Hours

Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
By: Casey Cep
Narrated by: Hillary Huber
Length: 11 hrs and 16 mins
4 out of 5 stars (205 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The stunning 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.

"A triumph on every level.... Casey Cep has excavated this mesmerizing story and tells it with grace and insight and a fierce fidelity to the truth." (David Grann, best-selling author of Killers of the Flower Moon)

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 of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell's murderer was acquitted - thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante's trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research 17 years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting and many more years working on her own version of the case.

Now, Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country's most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

©2019 Casey Cep (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"It’s been a long time since I picked up a book so impossible to put down. Furious Hours made me forget dinner, ignore incoming calls, and stay up reading into the small hours. It’s a work of literary and legal detection as gripping as a thriller. But it’s also a meditation on motive and mystery, the curious workings of history, hope, and ambition, justice, and the darkest matters of life and death. Casey Cep’s investigation into an infamous Southern murder trial and Harper Lee’s quest to write about it is a beautiful, sobering, and sometimes chilling triumph." (Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Rick
  • Urcuqui, Ecuador
  • 05-12-19

Brilliant!

‘She liked to sleep late, start writing around noon, take a break for dinner, then carry on until deep into the night. She tended to write longhand first, and then, at the end of every day, she typed a fresh copy of her draft—“picking out the nut from the shell,” she called it—on the Olivetti typewriter she’d finally bought to replace her faithful old Royal.

‘“I work very slowly,“ Lee acknowledged. “A good 8-hour day usually gives me about one page of manuscript I won’t throw away.”’

Yet, after 30 years, Harper Lee stopped working on her only novel after “To Kill a Mockingbird”—it turned out that “Go Set a Watchman” had essentially been a first draft of her monumental work. The serial killer saga of the Rev. Willie Maxwell was meant to take its place alongside the true crime pioneer “In Cold Blood,” on which she’d worked with her friend from childhood, Truman Capote.

“Furious Hours” nearly writes that unfinished book to get to the complex story of the enigmatic Nelle Harper Lee herself. It is beautifully written and elegantly structured. It’s almost two books in one: there is such a whirlwind of real-life murders, you almost forget that Harper Lee is involved. By then you’re nearly halfway through, and the adventure plunges ahead again.

Casey Cep has penned a revealing, engaging, and genre-spanning opus, impressive in its detail and especially delightful in audiobook form. Don’t miss it.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Confusing. A very difficult book to “hear”

Perhaps this book would be better if one were to read rather than listen to it. Harper Lee might think even less of this book if she heard the mispronunciations of important words or names like Evelyn Waugh or Studs Terkel. I did hear some interesting information about the author & the history of her time.

Largely very disappointing book—perhaps the author could add an advanced organizer to help guide the reader.


14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Narrator is difficult to listen to

I’m having trouble keeping up with the story because of the bland, robotic like voice of the narrator.

15 of 20 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great book, needs a Southern narrator

The book itself is fascinating, particularly being from central Alabama and having some familiarity with the area around Lake Martin that serves as the setting for the book. I learned much about the history of the area that I did not know before, and about Harper Lee's life. Unfortunately, the narrator detracted from my listening with mispronunciations of places and people's names. A narrator from the South, particularly one from Alabama, would have made this more atmospheric and enjoyable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Slow

Had a hard time getting into the book. Very slow and too much explanation on the insurance side.

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great book but terrible performance by the reader.

This is an excellent book, very well written and fascinating story, but unfortunately I had to get past the atrociously bad reading by Hillary Huber. The reader had the terrible habit of ending nearly every sentence as if it was a question and her overall inflection sounded more like a robot than a human. This book deserved a far better performance.

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  • Mollie
  • United States
  • 06-16-19

Know how to say the place names

The court case that is being followed is fascinating!

There are times when the author deviates too far off topic into some connections that are interesting, but not necessary (the voodoo/hoodoo part is a good example).

A lot of people have complained about the narrator, but I didn't think she was that bad. However, I'm from the area the book is about, and the narrator cannot say the names of many of the places connected to it. That's annoying. An example is the city of Opelika. She keeps saying "Oh-puh-leek-ah," but it is pronounced "Oh-puh-lie-kah." Just an observance that maybe things like that should be checked out before committed to audio.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Exploitation

While Cep's narrative of the murder was engaging, we learned nothing not already known in the public domain. My problem is more of resentment that once again Harper Lee is being exploited for personal gain. I firmly believe that Harper Lee never meant for GO SET A WATCHMAN, a first draft of MOCKINGBIRD, to ever be published. And now we have a book written about a book never written by Harper Lee.

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3 Stories in one neat package

While the real-life crime of a preacher killing several family members for insurance money intrigued me enough to want to read this book, there was a bit of CBS Sunday Morning quality to the portion of the Book on N. Lee Harper, better known to the World as Harper Lee. Prepare as the author gives a grand account of Lee’s life around her books. One may note I used an “s” which, depending on your view, is most likely unnecessary.

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A MUST READ FOR HARPER LEE FANS

Although the author gives us much information and intrigue about a very bad man, what she also gives us, and what I love the most, is great information on Harper Lee. Ms. Cep is a pro, and I look forward to more of her work.