Harper Lee is famous for her classic novel To Kill a Mocking Bird and her unshakeable commitment to justice continues to inspire us. Author and journalist Casey Cep has written for The Guardian about a discovery made while researching her book Furious Hours.
Though most people know much about Harper Lee’s work and her enlightening words, Lee was notoriously private. According to Cep, writing for The Guardian, “part of what she so despised about the press coverage of her own life was its many inaccuracies and distortions of the truth.” However, one thing that has come to light following Lee’s death in 2016, is a true crime book which was never released.
Image via Vulture
The Guardian notes that Harper Lee had always been “intrigued with crime”. As a child, she would go to the local courthouse and observe trials from the balcony, and went on to study law at the University of Alabama, and even had a hand in the research and assembling of the first true crime book, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Not to mention Lee’s own novel To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the finest tales of justice ever written.
Back in the late 70s, sixteen-year-old Alabaman teen, Shirley Ann Ellington, was one of several people murdered by her stepfather, Reverend Willie Maxwell. According to The Irish Times, Casey Cep “is one of just a few individuals who have read the only known chapter of Lee’s unpublished book, The Reverend, about the case of Reverend William Maxwell.”
Harper Lee heard about the Maxwell case in 1977, when he was shot in the head at Shirley Ann’s funeral by a relative who suspected him of committing the murdder. The following year, Lee began interviewing anyone connected to the case, intending to write about it, however whether she intended to write a true crime book a la Capote, or a fictionalized version of events, as further evidence would suggest, remains unclear.
In 2015, after Lee’s controversial second novel, Go Set a Watchman, who announced, Casey Cep revealed that the family of Maxwell’s lawyer, Tom Radney, who had worked with Lee on her research were in possession of a chapter by Lee entitled ‘The Reverend,’ in which Radney was referred to as ‘Jonathan Larkin,’ implying that perhaps she was intending to fictionalize the case.
Image via IMDb
Whether Harper Lee finished the book to the end is sadly a mystery in itself. According to Cep, many rumors circulated regarding what Harper Lee did with her manuscripts, with the Radney family insisting that every time he spoke with her, which was twice a year she would tell him she was still working on it. The family hoped that the rest of the manuscript would be released after the publication of Go Set a Watchman, but sadly this did not come to pass and her estate has been sealed. According to the Irish Times, “Cep believes whatever exists of The Reverend will remain unpublished until it is unsealed.”
Whether through for fiction or nonfiction, Harper Lee still reflects the importance of dedication to the truth, and nothing but the truth.
Just because you wrote a good book doesn’t mean you haven’t killed someone. In fact, just because you haven’t written a good book doesn’t mean you haven’t killed someone. Heck, you could not write a book, not intend to write a book, and still kill someone. But that’s not what this site is about. This site is about books, and occasionally the worlds of literature and murder overlap. Here are 5 authors who murdered someone.
5. William S. Burroughs
As the story goes, he didn’t mean to kill her, but he did. Key member of the Beat Generation, William S Burroughs appears in Jack Kerouac’s breakout 1957 novel On The Road. Written on one long scroll of paper so he didn’t have to change pages on his typewriter, Jack Kerouac wrote this iconic piece of literature in three weeks in April of 1951, fuelled by coffee. William S. Burroughs was the inspiration behind On The Road‘s character of Old Bull Lee.
William S. Burroughs had his own writing career long before On The Road was published. In fact, his first novel, Junkie, was released in 1953, a first-person narrative about a man struggling with heroin addiction. This novel was published initially under the pseudonym William Lee.
But let’s go back to 1951. While in Mexico City, the story goes that Burroughs and his second wife, Joan Vollmer, were drunk. Plus, word has it that Joan was undergoing withdrawal from a heavy amphetamine habit. Drunk and a little high, they decided to play William Tell.
For those who don’t know, William Tell is a game in which one plays shoots an apple off the top of another person’s head, usually with a crossbow, however in this instance, Joan placed a highball glass on top of her head and William S. Burroughs used a pistol to attempt to shoot it off. Unfortunately, he missed.
While awaiting trial, Burroughs wrote the novel Queer about a young man looking for Yage, a hallucinogen, in South American. At the end of his trial, Burroughs was given a two-year suspended sentence and in 1959 his magnum opus, Naked Lunch, was published.
William Seward Burroughs II, post-modernist author and primary figure of the Beat Generation, died on August 2nd, 1997 at the age of eighty-three.
5. Anne Perry
Author of the Thomas Pitt detective series and the William Monk detective series, Anne Perry is an English author whose life story was the basis for Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures. Released in 1994, the film follows the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case about two teenage friends, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, who eventually murdered Parker’s mother.
Parker was sixteen at the time, while Hulme was fifteen. According to The True Crime Library, in Christchurch, New Zealand the girls bludgeoned the woman to death with half a brick enclosed in an old stocking before running into town and claiming that Parker’s mother had fallen and hit her head.
Their story fell apart upon closer inspection and the two were arrested. Too young for the death penalty, the girls each received five years in prison.
At the time of the film’s production and release, it was not known that upon her release from prison, Juliet Hulme had changed her name to Anne Perry.
After the film was release and Perry’s identity discovered, the New Zealand Herald claims that, “…Perry has told the London Times Saturday Magazine that although they were never lesbians the relationship was obsessive”.
On her website, Anne Perry write that, “I began the ‘Monk’ series in order to explore a different , darker character, and to raise questions about responsibility, particularly that of a person for acts he cannot remember. How much of a person’s identity is bound up in memory?”
3. Blake Leibel
Not everyone who authors graphic novels with graphic descriptions of murder is a murderer themselves, but this guy is.
In 2015 the graphic novel Syndrome was published, containing graphic depictions of bloodletting and, straight from CBS Los Angeles, it transpires that Blake Leibel murdered his girlfriend and left her body “drained of all of her blood in a crime that a prosecutor said mirrored the script of a graphic novel he co-wrote.”
The Los Angeles Times also notes that Leibel “was expressionless. Dressed in a yellow jail shirt and blue scrubs, he uttered only one word, answering “yes” when the judge asked if he would waive his appearance at an upcoming court hearing”.
Back in 2005, Chinese writer Liu Yongbiao broke onto the scene with his story collection, A Film, which won China’a highest provincial critical achievement: the Anhui Literature Prize. In 2010, his novel about a writer implicated in a wave of unsolved murders, The Guilty Secret, was published.
In 2013, he cemented his literary status when he was elected to the China Writers Association.
Image Via All That’s Interesting
In 1995, on November 29th, 1995, Liu and a friend, Wang Mouming, checked in a guesthouse. All That’s Interesting tells that they had “the intention of robbing other guests” but “[w]hen the two were caught stealing by a guest, Wang and Liu are believed to have used clubs and hammers to kill the guest as well as the guesthouse’s two owners (an elderly couple) and their thirteen-year-old grandson in order to completely cover their tracks.”
Twenty-two years later, Shanghaiist reported that blood samples led investors to the fifty-three-year-old writer and the sixty-four-year-old legal consultant.
The NY Post states that Liu told the investagors who arrested him that, “I’ve been waiting for you all this time”.
According to ABC News, Mark Read spent his early ears by robbing drug dealers before kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld. Eventually, he was caught and charged with armed robbery, assault, and kidnapping. Perth Now reports that he only spent only thirteen months outside of prison between the ages of thirty and thirty-eight. He also cut off his ears in prison.
If you’re waiting on a life-changing read, lucky you! We’ve got three coming your way this week across a broad variety of genres and subject matter: WWII historical fiction, feminist self-help, and a chilling nonfiction pursuit of one of America’s most notorious serial killers. There’s no wrong choice—so why not choose them all?
Here are Bookstr’s Three to Read, the three books we’ve picked for you to read this week!
1. Our HOT PICK
Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.
Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
Pam Jenoff‘s The Lost Girls of Paris offers readers an engaging cast of female WWII operatives, an exciting chance for readers to understand the courage of historic women whom history frequently overlooks. The novel brims with intrigue as the plot moves between politically charged metropolises Washington, D.C. and NYC—and then onto France! This novel hits a few familiar and beloved tropes (an undercover operative, a dashing fellow operative, a series of difficult choices) all the while pairing them with a talented, fascinating cast of female characters, each of whom has a distinct and complex personality. Jenoff has a master’s degree in history from the prestigious Cambridge University; afterwards, she worked at the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. Her expert historical knowledge and international background shines in this mesmerising new release.
2. Our Coffee Shop Read
Rachel Hollis has seen it too often: women not living into their full potential. They feel a tugging on their hearts for something more, but they’re afraid of embarrassment, of falling short of perfection, of not being enough.
In Girl, Stop Apologizing, #1 New York Times bestselling author and founder of a multimillion-dollar media company, Rachel Hollis sounds a wake-up call. She knows that many women have been taught to define themselves in light of other people—whether as wife, mother, daughter, or employee—instead of learning how to own who they are and what they want. With a challenge to women everywhere to stop talking themselves out of their dreams, Hollis identifies the excuses to let go of, the behaviors to adopt, and the skills to acquire on the path to growth, confidence, and believing in yourself.
Why read Rachel Hollis‘ Girl, Stop Apologizing? Come on, how many times do you say sorry for things that are way out of your control—or worse, things that aren’t even that bad! Are you frequently sorry that you accidentally touched someone on a crowded train—even if he bumped into you? Are you sorry there are thirty seconds left on your microwave timer when an impatient coworker walks into the kitchen? Rachel Hollis is the #1 bestselling author of Girl, Wash Your Face, an instant hit encouraging female confidence and self-reliance. And Hollis is a perfect example: a 30 Under Thirty herself, her infectious positivity and entrepreneurial spirit will encourage women readers to be ambitious and question any inner shame and insecurities. So girl, stop apologizing—and live up to your full potential!
3. Our DARK hORSE
For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” Michelle pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by Michelle’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.
Michelle McNamara‘s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, is hardly an underrated title. Named as a Best Book of the Year by well over a dozen renowned media outlets, this modern true crime classic is a masterwork of journalism—exciting as fiction and real as death. A serial rapist and serial killer, the Golden State Killer remained elusive for decades despite his obvious disturbances. His crimes were not only brutal, but were also deeply disturbing on a more psychological level: he frequently called victims for weeks before attacks, saying nothing and hanging up the phone. Other times, he instructed victims to perform nearly impossible tasks to prevent their deaths. Make a sound, and I’ll kill you. Move, and I’ll kill you. In one chilling incident, he placed a stack of kitchen dishes on a victim’s trembling back. If these fall, I’ll hear them. I’ll kill you if I hear them fall.
Though the book came out nearly a year ago, with its recent Audie Award win, we at Bookstr feel it’s time for a reminder of this unforgettable—and true—tale of unflinching horror.
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Authors often draw inspiration from themselves or people they know for their characters, and Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, resembles his book’s protagonist more and more every day. Like the fictional Mikael Blomqvist, Larsson was both an author and a journalist. And, also like Blomqvist, it turns out that he was deeply troubled by an unsolvable mystery.
Up until his untimely death, Larsson had been actively researching the 1986 assassination of Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme. Journalist Jan Stocklassa discovered this research—boxes upon boxes of it—in 2014 through Larsson’s former employer, Expo magazine.
IMAGES VIA BUSINESSWIRE.COM AND ALCHETRON.COM
Stocklassa used the research to write a true crime story titled The Man Who Played With Fire: Stieg Larsson’s Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin. The book was originally published in Swedish in November of 2018, and, after much ado, Amazon Crossing will publish the English translation on October 1st, 2019!
Larsson’s life has been a hot topic of late; a film titled The Man Who Played With Fire (also co-produced by Stocklassa) premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and focuses on Larsson’s research into far-right, neo-Nazi groups, rather than on Palme’s assassination.
IMAGE VIA SUNDANCE.ORG
Though Larsson passed away in 2004, he remains influential in both literary and social justice circles. Stocklassa’s new book will give readers a chance to be mesmerized by the life and works of Larsson one more time.
There’s no doubt that the true crime and mystery genres have been growing in popularity. From books to TV series to podcasts, this genre is just booming in every way and form it possibly can. There’s just something about the subject matter that awakens our morbidly curiosity, and authors are taking full advantage of this!
Image via Giphy
The true crime genre has been on the rise since the beginning of 2018, selling over 1.6 million books in the U.S. alone. In the book world, the genre has been thriving so much that Amazon’s sub-categories are including Biographies and Memoirs of serial killers. One of the fastest selling novels at the moment is CL Swinney’s Robert Black: The True Story of a Child Rapist and Serial Killer from the United Kingdom.
Image via Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin, a best elling crime novelist, says:
“Humans are fascinated by evil, we wonder where it comes from and whether we ourselves could ever carry out such an act. Some readers turn to crime fiction for answers, while others prefer true crime. Of course, there is a vicarious frisson for the fan of either – the reader stands at the shoulder of monsters without being endangered.”
Image via AbeBooks
Personally, I think the genre will continue to grow well beyond next year. There are plenty of upcoming novels from new and old authors and they seem to be pretty popular with the people who are able to get ARC copies. Romance novels is the number one best seller, but that might change in the coming years.