“It was the most shocking Christmas gift of Lee’s life and, as it would turn out, one of the most momentous in the history of American literature.” ~ Casey Cep
For Christmas 1956, Harper Lee received a special present—a check from a friend to fund her first novel. With enough money to pay rent and necessities, Lee quit her job as a travel agent and wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird has sold an estimated 40 million copies, been made into an award-winning movie, and made Lee an exceptionally wealthy woman.
As the manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird went into production in 1959, Lee accompanied her childhood friend Truman Capote to Kansas to help him research a rural town’s response to the killing of a local farmer and his family. Capote then wrote his best-selling true crime story, In Cold Blood, published in 1966.
Lee struggled to write another book after To Kill a Mockingbird, not publishing a second novel until 2015, one year before her death. That novel, Go Set a Watchman, was written during the same period in the 1950s, as a sequel to Mockingbird.
Another book project she attempted was in the late 1970s. Lee covered the trial of a local Alabama man who killed a notorious preacher widely considered to be guilty of multiple murders and insurance fraud. The book was to be a true crime story called The Reverend.
In Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, Casey Cep tells the story of the Alabama murders and trial, and of Harper Lee’s efforts to cover the trial and solve the related mysteries, as well as recounting the greater mysteries of Lee’s life as a writer. Cep’s well-written and well-researched account also weaves a rich portrait of Southern small-town life and human eccentricities.
Furious Hours is a page-turner. If you want to disappear into another world—a world of yesteryear, small-town passions, and strange doings—here it is. In the Southern United States, we prize a good story. Even better if it is true!
When I finished Furious Hours, I sat for a bit and pondered the impact of Lee’s Christmas gift. Her donors invested in a friend and by so doing made an enormous contribution through Harper Lee to our world. With Furious Hours, Casey Cep keeps that gift growing and multiplying.
It is inspiring when people invest in other people whose art and creations flow like a river through our lives and times.