""A triumph on every level. One of the losses to literature is that Harper Lee never found a way to tell a gothic true-crime story she'd spent years researching. Casey Cep has excavated this mesmerizing story and tells it with grace and insight and a fierce fidelity to the truth." --David Grann, best-selling author of Killers of the Flower Moon The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell's murderer was acquitted--thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend. Sitting in the audience during the vigilante's trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case. Now Casey Cep brings this nearly inconceivable story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country's most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity"-- Provided by publisher. "The stunning true story of an Alabama serial killer, and the trial that obsessed the author of To Kill a Mockingbird in the years after the publication of her classic novel--a complicated and difficult time in her life that, until now, has been very little examined. Willie Maxwell was a Baptist reverend in Alabama; he also happened to be a serial killer. Between 1970 and 1977, his two wives and brother all died under suspicious circumstances -- each with hefty life insurance policies taken out by none other than the Reverend himself. With the help of a savvy lawyer, Maxwell escaped justice for years. Then, the teenage daughter of his third wife perished. At the funeral, the victim's uncle shot the Reverend dead in a church full of witnesses--and was subsequently acquitted of the murder, thanks to the same savvy lawyer who had represented the Reverend for all those years. Sitting in the audience during the trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York to her native Alabama with an idea of writing a book about the case. Now, Casey Cep brings this nearly inconceivable, gripping story to life on the page: from the shocking murders to the chicanery of insurance fraud to the courtroom drama. At the same time, it is a vividly told, elegiac account of Harper Lee's quest to write a second book after To Kill a Mockingbird, and a deeply moving portrait of this beloved writer's struggle with fame, success, and the mysteries of artistic creativity"-- Provided by publisher.