Publishers Exploiting Harper Lee For ‘Mockingbird’ Follow-Up? State Investigates, Briefly

Harper Lee, 2007

Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, is at the center of a heated conflict over whether her second book, Go Set a Watchman, should be published. Some say her mental health is too poor for her to have signed off on the potentially lucrative book deal; others say she’s fine to make that decision. Still, the saddest part might be that now state officials investigated whether Lee was the victim of elder abuse, but recently closed the case. For the reclusive 88-year-old author, fame is a double edged sword.

According to MSNBC, Harper Lee’s lawyer found the completed manuscript for Go Set a Watchman in July of last year. Lee finished the novel, described as a “follow-up” to To Kill A Mockingbird, in the 1950s, but stashed it away after it was rejected by publishers.

The author’s decision to suddenly publish the book last month came under immediate scrutiny. Why would the incredibly reclusive Lee suddenly decide after so many years to try to publish the book again?

The suspicion led to one possibility: elder abuse.

Harper Lee suffered from a stroke in 2007, leaving her with severe hearing and sight problems. Likewise, her mental health has been declining, although friends still report being able to have a lengthy cogent conversation with the famous author.

The New York Times reports that investigators from the State of Alabama interviewed Lee about a complaint of elder abuse related to Watchman’s publication. They’ve also interviewed workers at Lee’s assisted-living facility, Meadows, and friends and acquaintances.

According to the Washington Post, writer Marja Mills shared a transcript from 2010 of Harper’s older sister, Alice Lee, describing the author’s mental condition.

“[Harper Lee] doesn’t know from minute to the other what she’s told anybody. She’s surprised at anything she hears because she doesn’t remember anything that’s ever been said about it.”

Marja Mills, who wrote The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee chronicling her time as Lee’s neighbor, echoed Alice’s sentiments about the author’s mental state. She added that she was suspicious of Lee’s attorney, Tonya Carter, who has been providing most of the author’s statements since the publication’s announcement.

The Washington Post reports that Carter, Harper Lee and Mills got into a fierce argument about whether the book was written with proper consent.

Nevertheless, for the State of Alabama, the matter is closed. Jezebel reports that the investigators found no reason to intervene. The Alabama Department of Human Resources didn’t say much more on the investigation, only that they have completed their interviews.

The HarperCollins Publishers plans to sell about about two million copies of the new book, which does not include electronic downloads.

Some still fear that Watchman, which was initially rejected by publishers, will prove to be flawed and soil the writer’s reputation. Whether that thought concerns Harper Lee remains unknown; her only statement to the press (aside from those going through Carter) has been “Go Away.”

[Image Credit: Getty Images]