A most impressive biography

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Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

The Rev. Willie Maxwell is a preacher who is well known for being accused and/or suspicioned of killing five of his family members for insurance money.  But Willie has a good lawyer (or else he’s very good at casting voodoo spells which some people believe) and he’s always gotten off scot-free.  That was so until the death of his stepdaughter when the girl’s uncle, Robert Lewis Brown, shot and killed the Reverend at the girl’s funeral.  Now Brown must face his own trial for murder and unbelievably, he is represented by the same attorney who represented the Reverend for so many years – Tom Radney.

It had been many years since Harper Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  Readers and publishers had been anxiously awaiting a new book from her.  She needed something special to bring her writing talent to life again.  When she heard of the stories surrounding the Rev. Willie Maxwell, she believed that this was the book she had been waiting to write and she traveled to Alabama to gather research.  She wasn’t new at true crime research as she had been with Truman Capote when he researched and conducted interviews for his book “In Cold Blood”.  Lee was never happy with all the untruths contained in Capote’s book and was determined that her book on the Reverend would be more factual.  And yet, whatever happened to that book she referred to as “The Reverend”?

This is a top-of-the-line biographical work.  I was completely immersed in this story of crime and greed.  I’ve always been fascinated by both Harper Lee and Truman Capote though had never read anything about Lee’s involvement in the Willie Maxwell story.  Even without Lee’s involvement, Maxwell’s story and all the rumors and superstitions surrounding it make a very compelling, bewitching tale.  The addition of Harper Lee in the mix is luscious icing on an already amazing cake.  The author does a stunning job of telling the facts of this story.  It’s one of those situations where truth is stranger than fiction.

I’m blown away that this is the debut work of this author.  She has rendered this story both in a riveting way while keeping it all very factual and true to life.  Not only does she relay the facts of the immediate story of Maxwell and Lee but also includes a history of how life insurance began, the ongoing belief in voodoo in the south, how justice doesn’t always triumph in a courtroom and the workings of artistic creativity.  I had a very hard time putting this one down and will long remember it.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

 

Mesmerizing historical novel revealing the layered life of Hedy Lamarr

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The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star review

Hedwig Kiesler is a young wealthy Jewish girl living in Vienna.  She longs to be a famous actress but also is interested in science.  Her father encourages her to pursue both.  She is just gaining respect as an actress when she meets her biggest fan, Fritz Mandl.  Mandl has quite a reputation with women and as an Austrian arms dealer.  But Hedwig’s parents are concerned about the developing hatred for Jews and believes a marriage between Hedwig and Fritz will save them all.  Once Hedwig marries Fritz, she realizes she made a terrible mistake and is imprisoned and abused by her controlling husband.  She begins to listen in on conversations at their dinner parties and learns military secrets that she passes on to her husband, hoping to use those secrets to escape from him.  Those secrets lead her to become an inventor of a unique radio-communication devise that may help win the war.

I was completely riveted by this book and found it fascinating.  I well remember the actress Hedy Lamarr, having watched many of her old movies on TV when I was young.  I also knew that this beautiful actress was also the inventor of a radio guidance system that was eventually used in the development of Bluetooth and Wi-fi.  But this book opened up her world to me in such a mesmerizing way.  The author has a talent for bringing her characters to life.  Parts of this book read like a suspenseful thriller and I couldn’t put it down.  Most impressive was the focus the author gave to the difficulties Hedy encountered when she presented her invention to the navy and it was refused simply because they said it would be hard for them to sell their soldiers and sailors on a weapons system created by a woman and that they weren’t even going to try.  And this was decided when they had a faulty torpedo system in place.  She was told that she would do better selling war bonds.  I was so glad to read in a postscript that many years later, in the 1990’s, she was finally given recognition and awards for her invention.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.