As evidenced by its extended title Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee is really three interrelated stories. The first, and impetus for the rest, is the murky tale of a murky man, the Reverend Willie Maxwell, an itinerant preacher and laborer whose immediate family members had the unfortunate habit of dying under mysterious circumstances. Whether the Reverend was unlucky or not depends on your perspective, because it always turned out that said family members were insured to the hilt, with the beneficiary being, unsurprisingly, the Reverend himself. He was found innocent the only time he was tried for his losses, and eventually (no spoiler here, it’s on the jacket copy) shot in church during the funeral of one of his alleged victims.
Character is key in almost any book. This was brought home to me recently when I read and really enjoyed The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell after having encountered several other true crime books that simply didn’t satisfy. The trend today is to serve up an unsolved mystery and slather it with internet speculation and/or trial transcripts. there may be a few satisfying crime books, fact or fiction, where you never find out who dun it, but it’s certainly very few. I won’t name names, but if you write a book about say, a person who evidently either killed themselves or was murdered in a flamboyant fashion, it’s important to know their character to decide which of the two were more likely, something a journalistic “just the facts” approach doesn’t provide.