Starting off the New Year with a book from that NetGalley backlog I said that I was trying to deal with. I try to only have one non-fiction book on the go at once, and this one is one I kept meaning to get around to – and in fact even started a while back and then got distracted by the arrival of a bunch of non-fiction library book holds and I forgot about it. But it made the final of the non-fiction category of the Goodreads awards* which jogged my memory and gave me the push I needed to come back to it.
So Furious Hours is Casey Cep’s first book and it tells the story of an Alabama serial killer whose trial caught the eye of Harper Lee. The first part of the book tells you about the frankly astounding story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, who was suspected of killing members of his family – and who was then killed at the funeral of one of his alleged victims. And just to add to what is already an eye-popping story, the killer was defended at the murder trial by the same lawyer who had previously defended Reverend Maxwell when he was accused of murder. The second part of the book is about Harper Lee – the author of To Kill a Mockingbird – who took attended the trial with a view to writing her own true crime book about it, in the same way that her friend Truman Capote wrote the story of the Clutter family murders in In Cold Blood. Now as you probably know, until the (somewhat controversial) publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee famously had only one published book – so you know a bit about how that went for her, but that’s only really part of the story, and Cep takes you through Lee’s life that lead her to that point and beyond.
Both of the stories told here are absolutely fascinating, and if I have a complaint about the book it’s that they feel like two separate stories for a long time. When I first picked up the book I had picked up on the Harper Lee element of the story and was surprised when the start of the book didn’t mention her at all. But having now read the whole thing, I understand why it was structured like that and that you need to know one story fully to understand the other and I’m not sure I could have come up with a way of integrating the two that wouldn’t have been just far too confusing. So it requires you to read the blurb properly (bad Verity) to understand what you’re about to read – and then to go with it because it will all make sense in the end.
As well as the Goodreads awards, this was a nominee for the Baillie Gifford prize (which was won by another former BotW The Five) and made a lot of end of year lists – including Barack Obama’s – so it’s well worth a look if you like true crime or books about authors and that sort of thing. As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley, but Furious Hours is out in hardback at the moment – with the paperback due in April in the UK. You should be able to get hold of a copy from any bookshop with a reasonable non-fiction section. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from Kobo and Audible.
*Alongside previous BotW Catch and Kill – in fact there were a lot of books on that shortlist that I fancy reading – but they were all beaten by Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, which given my experience with Girl, Wash Your Face I don’t think I’ll be reading!