Thursday, August 6, 2015

Harper Lee's Next Book

You may have noticed that Harper Lee’s name pops up a lot in my recent posts.  By now it feels almost impossible to separate her from the story I wish to tell, the story of Reverend Maxwellthe so-called voodoo preacher, who was suspected of killing off members of his family for insurance money and who was then shot to death at the funeral of one of his victims.

Lee was supposed to write the book.  She was the one who appeared in Alexander City, Alabama during the 1980s, who stayed at the Horseshoe Bend Hotel while she was gathering information. She was the one who got everyone in town’s hopes up because she was the one with the publishing connections and the power to tell a story that would reach millions. 

And maybe she did write it.  According to a recent article on, a family friend spoke to one of Lee’s sisters, who said that Lee finished the book and that “it was far better than ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or ‘In Cold Blood.’”  

We can only imagine how sliced bread would have suffered in comparison.

When I started my research, Tom Radney, the Reverend’s longtime attorney, told me, “that book will never be written unless you write it,” but he also told me that Lee would call him up each Christmas and tell him she was sure it would be out by May.  “That went on year after year after year.”  It stands to reason that Lee managed to write a draft at least on par with Go Set a Watchman.

So why hasn’t she released the book already?

A better question to ask might be, "Why would she release the book?"  She doesn’t need the money.  She never liked public attention, and, as Go Set a Watchman proves, releasing another book bring lots of attention.  With her legacy already secured, another book could only damage her reputation.  As one friend of Lee’s told me, “When your first book wins a Pulitzer, and it’s rumored that Truman Capote… was the real tour de force on it, your second book better win a Pulitzer or the rumors will get a life.” 

I wrote to Harper Lee in 2009 to ask her about The Reverend, and she was kind enough to respond.  “When I was in Alexander City all those years ago,” she wrote, “I found a mountain of rumors and tall stories to a molehill of fact.  I trust that time has settled Rev. Maxwell’s dust, and I wish you well.”

I couldn’t help noticing that she never said whether or not she finished the book.

Of course now that she is almost completely blind and deaf and essentially walled off from the world at large, a new book has emerged and her lawyer has hinted that more books may follow.  My guess is the next one will not be a part of the Mockingbird series, but a stand-alone crime novel: I think she will publish The Reverend.  

Back in 2009, while doing my research I heard from a former circuit court judge familiar with Lee and the story of the Reverend.  The judge told me, “I suppose you have heard that Harper Lee has written a novel about the Maxwell case which is to be published after her death.”  


  1. I'm confused. How does someone "forget" if they wrote a novel(s)? How are these things "suddenly found" in your own safe-deposit box?

    1. Exactly. Her lawyer's assertion that "Watchman" was "found" has been disputed, and some people assume that the 89-year-old author is being manipulated in order to publish her old work, which is tantamount to printing money.