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Furious Hours

Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
Written by: Casey Cep
Narrated by: Hillary Huber
Length: 11 hrs and 15 mins
4 out of 5 stars (10 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of President Barack Obama's Favorite Books of 2019
Named One of the Best Books of 2019 by
Time, LitHub, Vulture, Glamour, O Magazine, Town and Country, Suspense Magazine, Inside Hook
New York Times Best Seller

“Compelling . . . at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee. If To Kill a Mockingbird was one of your favorite books growing up, you should add Furious Hours to your reading list today.” (Southern Living

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

What the critics say

"She explains as well as it is likely ever to be explained why Lee went silent after To Kill a Mockingbird. (The clue’s in Cep’s title.) And it’s here, in her descriptions of another writer’s failure to write, that her book makes a magical little leap, and it goes from being a superbly written true-crime story to the sort of story that even Lee would have been proud to write." (Michael Lewis, The New York Times Book Review)

"A compelling hybrid of a novel, at once a true-crime thriller, courtroom drama, and miniature biography of Harper Lee. If To Kill a Mockingbird was one of your favorite books growing up, you should add Furious Hours to your reading list today." (Southern Living)

"Cep delivers edge-of-your-seat courtroom drama while brilliantly reinventing Southern Gothic.... The result is an enthralling work of narrative nonfiction - Cep’s debut - and a poignant meditation on a book that never was." (O Magazine)

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Gail
  • 2019-07-08

Didn't care for narrator

I found this narrator to have an odd habit of putting the stress on the wrong syllables in words, or reading a long sentence in a monotone. I wish I had read this one vs. listening to it, as the story is fascinating.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Nancy Carlton Bendinger
  • 2019-06-30

wonderful book, poor pronunciations of towns

enjoyed it very much but feel narrator should've researched correct pronunciations of towns mentioned .

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Alissa Marshall
  • 2019-06-29

Wonderful book, poor reader

The quality and depth of research that Ceps lends to this story is quite something, although the murder story is far less interesting than the half of the book she spends on Harpee Lee, which is revelatory. To Kill a Mockingbird is certainly in my top 10 all-time favorite books, a true Bildungsroman with perhaps the best use of the first-person detached point of view in American literature. So Harper Lee, with all her enigmatic seclusion, is fascinating fodder for any lit-lover. But the reader of this recording added nothing to the book. In fact, she drove me crazy with certain faux-pas such as "MayCOMB" instead of " MAYcum." Horrific!!

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Mollie
  • 2019-06-16

Know how to say the place names

On June 18, 1977, the Reverend Willie Maxwell was shot three times in the head by Robert Burns while the two were attending a funeral in Alexander City, Ala.
Maxwell died, and although there were more than 300 witnesses, Robert Burns walked away a free man.
That crime is the basis of the non-fiction work “Furious Hours” by Casey Cep. The book was released on May 7, 2019, and it has since accumulated several award nominations.
SPOILERS AHEAD
Although the work flows as a whole, it can be viewed as four distinct parts, including one section about famous Alabama author Harper Lee.
The first section of the book focuses on Willie Maxwell, a logger turned preacher who had many family members die under mysterious circumstances.
Each of those family members had life insurance policies taken out on them with Maxwell as the beneficiary.
The second part of the book digs into why Robert Burns murders Maxwell. The two are at the funeral of a 16-year-old mutual relative when Burns fires the rounds.
The third section focuses on Tom Radney, who had been Maxwell’s lawyer during his many trials to collect on the life insurance policies for the family members he had presumably murdered. Later, Radney would defend Maxwell’s killer, Burns, as well.
Finally, the last section of the work is about how Harper Lee, of “To Kill a Mockingbird” fame, was going to turn the case into a book possibly titled “The Reverend.”
Lee had worked with Truman Capote on his most famous book, “In Cold Blood,” which is also about a gruesome murder.
Yet, “The Reverend” never materialized.
As most people know, Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and it was not until a few years ago that “Go Set a Watchman,” her other novel, was released amidst much fanfare and some scandal.
Why Lee never wrote “The Reverend” is part of what Cep tries to reveal in “Furious Hours.”
In truth, the first three sections of the book are the most interesting and enjoyable to read.
Maxwell sparked much controversy in his lifetime, and Burns ensured Maxwell paid for his supposed crimes after the law was unable to stop him, plus the case itself is interesting to follow, especially with elements like voodoo being thrown in.
Had Cep stopped there, she would still have had an outstanding non-fiction book, but by including Harper Lee’s interest in the case, Cep guaranteed herself a readership obsessed with Lee and her works.
However, Cep does not paint Lee in the best light. In fact, those who do not know much about Lee’s personal history, and really, how could they when she kept so much of her life private, may find Cep’s portrayal of Lee off-putting.
Still, the work is solidly researched, so even if the final quarter of the book does focus on some negatives in Lee’s life, the piece is worth the read.
As for the narration, a lot of people have complained about the narrator, but she was not that bad. Yet, the narrator cannot say the names of many of the places connected to it, which is annoying, especially for locals like me. 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.

10 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Joseph Wu
  • 2019-06-06

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.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Rick
  • 2019-05-12

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 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.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • william
  • 2019-05-10

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.


18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Ecarrico
  • 2019-05-19

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.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Leila's Lass
  • 2019-09-24

Compelling Story...Annoying Narrator

The book itself is engaging and quite captivating but right off the bat, I took an immediate dislike to the narrator. She has a very annoying habit of giving odd emphasis to words that often comes off as robotic. I actually bought both the Audible version and the Kindle version. Initially, I thought it’d be a nice story for my husband and I to listen to in the car on long drives but after just 10 minutes, I regretted using my Audible credit on this one. We just finished a 3 hour trip listening to this and I’ve already decided I’m going to read the rest on my Kindle. It’s a shame a better narrator wasn’t chosen for this interesting story.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • sarah richins
  • 2019-10-21

An Interminable Listen...

I was excited to listen to this because I think Harper Lee is a fascinating person and this story sounded so interesting. However, its like when you're talk in g to someone and they keep saying, "Wait, let me back up." Pretty soon instead of talking about the story, you're sorting through the origins of life insurance back in the 1600's. I finally had to put it away and move on because it was SO DRY and became terribly uninteresting. I'm sad that such an interesting subject and story had literally all the life sucked out of it...

1 person found this helpful