The state of Alabama is investigating the release of Harper Lee’s new novel amid allegations that her publisher, lawyer and literary agent may be involved in elder abuse. The announcement of the novel has sparked controversy over the role that Lee, now 88 and living at an assisted care facility, had in publishing her new novel called “Go Set a Watchman.”
Officials from the state's human resources department and the Alabama Securities Commission began investigating Lee last month, the New York Times reported Wednesday. Investigators reportedly interviewed the author of the 1960 novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" and residential staff at the facility, as well as several of Lee’s friends and acquaintances.
An anonymous source who was familiar with the investigation told the Times that Lee appeared capable of understanding questions and providing cogent answers when interviewed.
In her public communications, which have all come through her lawyer, Tonja Carter, Lee has defended her decision, saying she was “happy as hell” to release the book, penned in the 1950s. Previously in 2011, Carter had released a statement she had written in Lee’s name, relating to the authorization of her biography.
Carter told the Times that Lee was “hurt and humiliated” by allegations that she was pressured into publishing “Go Set a Watchman.”
“Nothing can describe how I feel” about the allegations, Carter said.
However, the famously reclusive author has been cheated by literary agents in the past, when she signed away the copyright for “To Kill a Mockingbird” to Samuel Pinkus in 2007.
"Poor Nelle Harper can't see and can't hear," Harper Lee’s sister, Alice Lee, told Gawker, using her legal first name, "and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence. Now she has no memory of the incident.”
Multiple residents of Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, say they doubt Lee made the decision to release the novel herself, and question why she had chosen to release it now, after over 40 years, AL.com reported.
Wayne Flynt, a friend of Lee’s, told the Times that the author is mentally capable, remains engaged with the world, and can recite long passages of literature. He added, however, that she has problems with her short-term memory. When he asked her about her new novel, she reportedly asked, “What novel?”