Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
2020/ 315 pages
rating: 8 / true crime
(Both read and listened)
Interesting book. There are two main sections involved in this book. One is Harper Lee’s life while the other is the story of Reverent Willie Maxwell. I’ve read both To Kill a Mockingbird which is not my favorite book but really quite good, and Go Set a Watchman which is curious.
I knew quite a lot of the Harper Lee story but nowhere near all the information and detail Cep provided. I knew nothing about the Maxwell murders – Lee’s new book topic.
Harper Lee was a talented writer but she really only published one story – To Kill a Mockingbird – and that was with a lot of help from her publisher. She very badly wanted a second book and although there was Go Set a Watchman, that’s the original story which was developed into Mockingbird. As it turned out Watchman was a sequel to Mockingbird but written prior. They were published over 50 years apart.
Personally I think the reason Harper Lee was unable to complete a second book was because she had had so much help with Mockingbird it changed the whole book and became something other, more maybe. She knew that and it left a somewhat sour taste with her about Mockingbird while motivating her to write a second book. But on her own she was too much of a perfectionist.
She was an enormous help to Truman Capote in researching and organizing In Cold Blood but “The Reverent,” as it would come to be called, was more complex and she wanted to write nonfiction this time – but what we call “creative” nonfiction, like Capote’s nonfiction novel. But for Lee, every word had to be accurate.
The racial politics is complex, too, partly because of the stories themselves, partly because of the times and partly because of the author’s views.. I get the feeling that Harper Lee was a progressive libertarian. She deeply believed in racial equality but for her, government intervention was anathema. She and her father, Amasa Lee (Atticus Finch of both Mockingbird and Watchman) were a lot alike. She and Tom Radney, the main attorney for Maxwell and his killer, thought a lot alike.
Ah well – the book is quite good, revealing, and a pleasure if you’re interested in True Crime (it’s been around for millennia) or Harper Lee or just this Alabama case..