Audiobook Review: FURIOUS HOURS, Harper Lee researches the infamous Reverend Willie Maxwell

1E637C1C-2484-4A93-953C-DD11F29AEB4EFurious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
Casey Cep
Narrated by Hillary Huber

In the 1970s, in Alexander City, Alabama, Reverend Willie Maxwell suffered the loss of five family members, including two wives, a brother, and nephew. After police discovered he had multiple life insurance policies on the decedents, Maxwell was brought to trial but successfully defended by attorney Tom Radney.

When Maxwell’s stepdaughter, Shirley Ann Ellington, died in 1977, ostensibly due to a mishap while changing a flat tire, Maxwell was suspected of killing her, yet he delivered the eulogy at her funeral. Before the crowd dispersed, Shirley’s uncle, Robert Burns, fatally shot Maxwell inside the chapel.

Despite hundreds of witnesses, Burns was acquitted, and his lawyer was none other than Tom Radney, the same man who insured Maxwell himself didn’t go to prison. Watching the proceedings unobtrusively was the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the world’s most beloved novels.

Harper Lee, who had traveled to Kansas with Truman Capote to help research In Cold Blood, had in mind to write a true crime novel of her own, and she spent time living in “Alex City” and interviewing the principals.

In the well-researched Furious Hours, Casey Cep presents two narratives in a single volume: the story of Maxwell’s misdeeds and downfall and of Harper Lee and her book, The Reverend, that she never finished. In recounting these histories, Cep offers vivid and lively biographies of a range of characters and provides important sociological context, particularly regarding issues of race in Alabama.

I listened to the Libro.FM audiobook narrated by Hillary Huber, and I thought she did a phenomenal job bringing the words to life. (When I read her biography, I learned she’s recorded almost 400 audiobooks!)

Published by Knopf Doubleday

Audiobook Review: STAY SEXY AND DON’T GET MURDERED

Stay Sexy and Don't Get MurderedI am not a regular listener of the My Favorite Murder podcast, but I’d heard such positive things about it, I wanted to read (or, in this case, listen to), Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered. Authors Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff are hilarious, open, and full of interesting stories in chapters with names like “If You’re In a Cult, Call Your Dad” and “Stay Out of the Forest.”⁣

The publishers call the book a “dual memoir,” and it is rich with details about their childhoods and early adult years, including struggles with depression, alcoholism, and substance abuse.⁣

There’s a horrifying story in which the inability to say no leads to a session of topless modeling. In a more positive vein, Hardstark describes her love of reading and meeting Ray Bradbury at an event.⁣

Throughout the book, the women emphasize self-awareness, vulnerability, and connection. What was missing was the true crime I expected. I liked the book anyway, but it’s not a traditional true crime volume.⁣

I loved listening to the audiobook and hearing the women interact. Paul Giamatti reads some sections. One of their fathers even jumps in for a cameo. Even better, I got the book through Libro.fm which works in partnership with independent bookstores.⁣

Libro.fm is an affiliate link – we’ll both get a free audiobook if you join!

BOOK REVIEW: Born a Crime Audiobook

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African ChildhoodBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first heard about Born a Crime, I decided to listen to it as an audiobook instead of reading it in a traditional format. I’m so glad that I did. I’m sure the book would be just as good, but it wouldn’t have the correct pronunciation of African phrases, the special voices Noah uses for his grandmother, mother, and other family members, or his emotional delivery.

Born a Crime focuses on Noah’s early years growing up under apartheid and ends in his mid-twenties as his comedy career was taking off but his family suffered a tragedy. As funny as Noah is–and he is funny–the book provides an unflinching look at apartheid and the effects of apartheid after it ended. He describes feeling like an outsider in school, recounts his schemes to make money, reflects on his relationship with his Swedish father, and laments his lackluster love life.

As Noah hilariously recounts his exploits, he never fails to situate them in the social and cultural context, asking difficult questions (e.g., might crime be at times legitimate?) or criticizing the policies of the South African state. Not only was I completely entertained, I learned a lot about the mechanisms of apartheid and the methods by which the government successfully oppressed the majority of the population.

Throughout, Noah returns to themes of empathy and understanding, often reflecting on how language can unite (or divide) people, as well as the love of family, particularly his strong though difficult mother. The last chapter of the book recounts his mother’s marriage to his stepfather, and the raw emotion it still raises was clear in Noah’s narration. Of course, the book also underlines the use of humor to cope with difficult situations.

The only drawback to the audio edition was the lack of pictures. I’m not sure if the hardback or ebook has pictures. When Noah described how he looked as a teenager and his attempts to preen for girls, I really wished I could see it!

I highly recommend this book for teenagers up!

View all my reviews