“Furious Hours” by Casey Cep is a three-part book, first following a criminal, then a trial, and finally moving to a mini-biography of Harper Lee, who attended the trial with the intention of writing a true-crime book. “Furious Hours” is complete with twists, turns and surprises, and historical nuggets woven throughout.
In part one, author Casey Cep introduces us to the Rev. Willie Maxwell. Several of Maxwell’s family members died suspiciously and he had life insurance policies on all of them. “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.”
Part two covers Maxwell’s lawyer, Tom Radney. A family man who fought for civil rights in 1960s Alabama, Radney was unafraid to take on what seemed like an impossible case. Cep’s writing keeps the court procedures going at a lively pace and contributes to understanding the unbelievable outcome.
Harper Lee, the writer in part three, attended the trial. “Nobody recognized her. Harper Lee was well known, but not by sight, and if she hadn’t introduced herself, it’s unlikely that anyone in the courtroom would have figured out who she was.”
After writing “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lee worked with her friend, Truman Capote researching his classic true-crime book, “In Cold Blood.” This gave her the idea to write a true-crime book of her own about an Alabama insurance fraudster and his lawyer. While Lee never completed this book, (as far as we know) she researched it.
I think Casey Cep was trying to write an Ann Rule stylebook, but she didn’t have enough information to fill in the details the way Rule does. Instead, she takes some historical back roads that could have been condensed, (the one concerning life insurance in particular) but I have to admit, it was interesting. I also learned several bizarre facts about Alabama’s history. Overall, it was an interesting look at the cultural and political climate of 1970s Alabama.
Fans of true-crime, and those who like to read about civil rights in the South might enjoy “Furious Hours.” This is Casey Cep’s first book, but unlike Harper Lee, I suspect it isn’t her last. You can find this on the new non-fiction shelf at the Gering Public Library.
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