Furious Hours by Casey Cep
Casey Cep is known as a writer, but this is her first book. Strangely, this book is about a book that was never written. Harper Lee, famous for To Kill a Mockingbird, researched, pondered, and arranged what was to be her second novel, The Reverend. But somehow, when it came to actually writing it she was caught up in the writings of her one time neighbor and friend, Truman Capote. She went with him to Holcomb, Kansas, several times to help with his research of In Cold Blood. Accusations that she wrote it and gave Capote the credit were and are still surfacing to this day. Part of the reason for this speculation is that Harper Lee was very visible in Holcomb, Kansas. She made the people interviewed about the murders there feel more comfortable than Capote did, so people remembered her better than he. Her note taking skills were meticulously thorough, and she generously gave all to Capote. When his book was published, which was conveniently after the execution of the Holcomb killers, Capote took it upon himself to rearrange and change In Cold Blood. This did not set well with the two older daughters of the murdered Holcomb family. Capote had verbally promised not to change what the two daughters thought would be the story, but he broke that promise to make the book, and hopefully a movie, more interesting. My opinion that Harper Lee did not write In Cold Blood is because of Capote’s dishonesty with the plot of his book. I don’t think Harper Lee would have broken her word to the grieving daughters. This is part of Ms. Cep’s book that especially interests Harper Lee fans and is necessary to understand Furious Hours.
Furious Hours is divided into three parts: “The Reverend,” “The Lawyer,” and “The Writer.”
With the help of her thirty-three pages of notes and bibliography, Ms. Cep basically tells the story Harper Lee never finished. The reverend, Willie Maxwell, is a charming, black minister who has a way of making people he’s taken out life insurance on disappear. After many questionable disappearances, a family member of one of his victims presses charges, and the reverend is sent to trial. The lawyer, the subject of part II, manages to get Willie off despite compelling evidence and even an all-white jury.
In part II, another shocking thing happens to Willie, but his very creative lawyer gets another guilty person off. Cep’s research of the lawyer and the circumstances of Willie’s guilt help the reader see how Willie went free after the trial.
In part III, Cep lets the reader not only know but understand Harper Lee. Lee attended both trials in hopes of getting enough info to create her own In Cold Blood. Cep makes it clear that Lee certainly did find enough material to publish a terrifying story, but somehow, the book was never written. I am very grateful that Casey Cep took incredible care and much time in telling this story. Ironically, if Lee had written this book, she would have been given credit for writing a story of a black man who is found innocent but is guilty to go with her renowned To Kill a Mockingbird which is a book about an innocent black man who is found guilty.
Some of you may remember reading “A Christmas Memory,” by Truman Capote. It was a story in the first literature book I used to teach in the middle school in Eads. It seems so opposite of In Cold Blood. It is the saddest Christmas story I’ve ever read. After reading Furious Hours, I feel I know much more about both Harper Lee and Capote. Both were incredible writers, but both had anything but wonderful lives. No wonder they were such good Southern friends.