on Aug 22, 2019
Casey Cep’s Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee traces the story of Harper Lee’s last, never-completed book: a work of true crime about an Alabama serial killer in the 1970s Deep South, the vigilante who murdered him, and the lawyer who defended them both. In her compelling lectures, Cep unpacks the previously untold history of Lee’s life after To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as the ethical issues that animate her own reporting on this history, from insurance fraud and the complexities of small-town life to the fraught racial politics of the era.
Casey Cep’s Furious Hours tells the stunning story of how one of America’s most beloved and enigmatic authors became obsessed with the story of the Reverend Willie Maxwell, a rural Alabaman preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money. Harper Lee, the renowned author of To Kill a Mockingbird, traveled back to her native state in the 1970s, hoping to write her own true-crime classic in the mold of In Cold Blood, which she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. With the help of a savvy lawyer, Maxwell had evaded 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. But despite the incredible story and years of obsessive research, Lee never finished her book. In Furious Hours, Cep picks up her mantle, bringing the remarkable tale of shocking murders, courtroom drama, and racial politics to life, while also offering a deeply moving portrait of Lee, her struggle with fame and success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.
In her talks, Cep spotlights Harper Lee’s life after To Kill a Mockingbird, and tells the heartbreaking story of why she struggled to release another book. In addition to her lectures about Harper Lee, Cep recounts the fascinating origins and current implications of the true-crime genre, and the history of frauds in American film, literature, and life.
Cep’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The New Republic, among other publications. She graduated from Harvard College before earning a master’s degree in theology from the University of Oxford, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. She lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.