MONROEVILLE, ALABAMA • To Kill A Mockingbird novelist Harper Lee's third, as-yet-unpublished book is a crime story called The Reverend, said a close friend on Tuesday.
Auburn University professor Wayne Flynt, who has known Lee for more than 30 years, said it is based on a true story involving a pastor who killed three people and was acquitted of murder.
"I know it exists because (Lee's) sister Louise told me," Prof Flynt, a lecturer on Southern culture, told reporters in Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where she resides in an assisted-living facility.
He visited Lee on Monday, a day before the publication of her second novel Go Set A Watchman. He said he had not asked her about The Reverend.
"I don't ask her anything because she needs friends in her life who just let her be," he said.
He said Louise Conner, who died in 2009, told him about the book in 2003, but not who possessed the manuscript.
"Nelle might have sent it to Louise or to Alice," Prof Flynt said, using the first name by which Lee is known among her family and close friends.
Alice Lee, a lawyer who represented her novelist sister's interests for decades, died in November last year at age 103.
The latest revelation deepens the mystery surrounding the reclusive writer on the day Watchman went on sale. Lee, 89, withdrew from public life a few years after the 1960 publication of To Kill A Mockingbird.
The release about 50 years after of Watchman, an earlier draft of Mockingbird, set the literary world afire. Monroeville remains divided about whether Lee, who had a stroke in 2007 and is hard of hearing, had wanted the new book to be published.
Ms Tonja Carter, the lawyer who now handles Lee's business affairs, could not immediately be reached for comment on Prof Flynt's remarks. She had said on Monday she recently found in a safe-deposit box belonging to Lee, pages of typed text and other documents that would be examined and authenticated by experts over the next few months.
She wrote in a newspaper commentary that she had recently found typed pages in the same safe-deposit box where the manuscript for Watchman was discovered about a year ago, and wondered whether it might be a third book bridging Mockingbird and Watchman.