The Harper Lee murder mystery novel nobody knows about

As details of Harper Lee’s mysterious “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird continue to unravel, we just learned that this book was not Lee’s only project as a writer. In fact, Harper Lee was working on a novel called The Reverend, and it was about a real-life murder in Alabama.

The story sounds absolutely chilling. A wife is found dead in her car, beaten to death. According to The New Yorker, her brother is also found dead two years later. Shortly after, HIS second wife is also murdered. Several more family members are killed, but no one was charged with the crimes or prosecuted. It was a harrowing, dark mystery that seeped through the southern town, and one young lawyer on the case, Tom Radney, wanted Harper Lee to get to the bottom of it.

So he provided her with all the legal files, and Lee interviewed people who knew about the case, but for some reason, she never came through with a full-length manuscript. Even after Radney died.

“Many gave up on Harper Lee ever publishing again, but the Radney family never did. Though Tom Radney died in 2011, his wife, children, and grandchildren continue to believe that The Reverend might appear,” The New Yorker notes. They hoped she would produce something like Truman Capote’s non-fiction crime noir novel, In Cold Blood (she, after all, helped Capote write it), but years and years went by, and nothing. In fact, when it was announced by HarperCollins that Lee’s book Go Set a Watchman was being released soon, the Radney family hoped this was some version of The Reverend.

Nobody knew why Harper Lee didn’t finish the book. She once told Radney that she had “accumulated enough rumor, fantasy, dreams, conjecture, and outright lies for a volume the length of the Old Testament” and she felt that she knew who murdered these people, but had only four pages to show the lawyer. In 1997, Tom Radney told a reporter, “I still talk to Nelle twice a year, and every time we talk, she says she’s still working on it. . .she’d say I’m just about finished with the draft, or it’s just going to be perfect, or I’ll send it to the publishers tomorrow.”

In 2008, the Radney family reached out to Alice Lee, Harper’s sister, and asked if she knew anything about The Reverend. Alice replied that her sister wasn’t going to finish the book because of her health (by then, Harper had suffered from a stroke). All the legal documents, the files, the interviews, the photos —they were never returned to the Radney family, and the book went unpublished.

While it doesn’t really look like Harper Lee will be finishing this murder mystery anytime soon, it didn’t look like Go Set a Watchmen would ever hit the shelves, either.

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