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Killing Mister Watson Hardcover – June 30, 1990


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (June 30, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394554000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394554006
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #628,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The 20th book by the extraordinarily versatile author of fiction ( At Play in the Fields of the Lord ; Far Tortuga ) and nonfiction ( The Snow Leopard ; In the Spirit of Crazy Horse ) is a curious hybrid. "As a creature from prehistory is recreated from scattered bits of bone fleshed out on an armature of theory, so my idea of Mister Watson has been reimagined from the few hard 'facts' . . . " writes Matthiessen in an introductory note. Set in the Florida Everglades a century ago, the novel is based on the legend of Edgar J. Watson, the man said to have gunned down female outlaw Belle Starr. Matthiessen gives voices to a gamut of characters who knew Watson, and while it is intended that the book read with the deadpan of an oral history, those imagined--or "reimagined"--witnesses provide a rich chorus. The book starts with the murder of Watson by a group of his neighbors. The rest of the story is a slow piecing together of the puzzle that explains how this event came to pass. We never hear directly from Watson; he takes form slowly as facets of his life emerge, until his still-opaque profile remains outlined by all we have heard. With more artistry than In Cold Blood but with some of the same concerns, this is an imaginative and haunting evocation of a time and place, and the paradox of the tenderness and brutality with which real and imagined lives are filled.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA-- More than 20 men wait in ambush as Mister Watson steps ashore and is shot dead. From this beginning, the story of Edgar J. Watson is told through the recollections of his daughter and neighbors, and by reports from magazines, letters, and other historical papers. This is a study rich in history, social studies, ecology, and nature of the The Ten Thousand Islands area of southwestern Florida from 1890-1910. It was a haven for escapees and renegades, and poor treatment of Indians, blacks, and half-breeds was accepted and expected. When Watson arrived there in the 1890s, he was thought of as quiet and friendly. But an aura of danger grew with the stories told and retold about him. When it was alleged that he killed 57 people (including Belle Starr), the tales became folk legend. The setting and characters are fully drawn as Watson's menacing power grows steadily. Because ten characters tell and retell in dialect their versions of the Watson story, YAs will need to persevere with this demanding format. If they do, they will know the Florida era that ended when Mister Watson was killed. --Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library,
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

If you like descriptive narrative and don't feel too strongly about a plot then you'll like this book.
russell toone
In this book, Mr Matthiessen has succeeded in the creation of a highly believable fictional world, with a fascinating character at its centre.
J C E Hitchcock
It has been several years since I read this book...but I have enjoyed few others as I have enjoyed this one.
John Noodles

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 75 people found the following review helpful By John Noodles on June 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
It has been several years since I read this book...but I have enjoyed few others as I have enjoyed this one. Using multiple voices, Matthiessen tells the story of E.J Watson, a homesteader in the turn-of-the-century Everglades. Matthiessen tells the story in the 1st person, from the point of view of various friends of Watson, family members, and enemies within the Chokoloskee community.
Matthiessen has clearly immersed himself in the lives of Florida pioneers, and conveys the harshness of their lives, and that sticky, fetid overripeness so characteristic of Florida, brilliantly. He clearly loves his players, and adeptly creates "whole" people in even distasteful characters.
I've bought this book for friends who haven't been able to finish it...I have no idea why. Too much MTV, I guess, has rotted their attention spans! It may take 20 or so pages to get used to the shifting voices, but it is far from a difficult read, and you will find yourself compelled by the narrative.
This book has two sequels: Lost Man's River (told from the perspective of Watson's grown son), and Bone by Bone (told from the p.o.v. of Watson himself). Both are worth a look.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on October 16, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the title implies, this is the story of a murder, one committed in the Florida Everglades in 1910. The book opens with a description of the death of Edgar J Watson, a pioneer homesteader, at the hands of a mob of his neighbours, who believe him to have been responsible for a number of killings that have taken place in the area. It then proceeds to tell Watson's story through the eyes of those who knew him, each chapter being related by a different narrator to the previous one. Interspersed with these are a number of brief chapters related by the author himself, assuming the role of a historian trying to find out the truth about what he calls the "Watson legend". (Watson was, in fact, a real person, and, although this is a work of fiction, it is based around historical events.)
The one voice we do not hear in the course of this novel is that of Watson himself; he is always referred to in the third person, never in the first. As a result of Mr Matthiessen's multiple-narrator technique, the truth about Watson's character and the events surrounding him, even those following his move to Florida, remains ambiguous. (We hear rumours, but no direct testimony, about his previous life in several other states). Was Watson good or evil, or a mixture of the two? Was his death the work of a vindictive lynch mob or justifiable killing in self-defence? Was he really guilty of the murders attributed to him, or the victim of unjustified suspicion? Mr Matthiessen never gives a final answer to these questions, but allows the reader to decide for himself or herself. Certainly, the various narrators disagree among themselves; while some clearly hate Watson, others point to his good qualities- his love for his family, his capacity for hard work, his honesty in his business dealings.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 1998
Format: Paperback
Matthiessen does a superb job of weaving the known facts of Edgar Watson together with his own imagination to create a novel that is truly a joy to read. It reminded me of Shogun in that it was one of those really great book reading experiences that gives the reader a sense of history and geography while telling a story that I couldn't put down after the first 50 pages. It's the first thing I've read of Matthiessen's, and I'm looking forward to my next one - probably The Snow Leopard. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of good writing, and not hack storytelling. I loved it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By F. E. Mazur on December 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In novels displaying typical craftsmanship, assigning names to characters who may have little bearing on the story is avoided-why confuse the reader unnecessarily! But in Matthiessen's tale in which each chapter is told from the perspective of one person, numerous names of brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, cross-breeds and others are given time and again, all the while the focus is kept on just who is Mr. Watson and what makes him tick. There may be some confusion here, but it's of the type that comes from sitting on the porch across from someone who is telling you his or her story, and you realize there isn't a need to always interrupt and request the person identify every incidental person who shows up in the tale. Rather, you are taken in by the great story overall and by the teller, who turns out to be quite an interesting character himself. This is the case with `Killing Mister Watson.' Moreover, this maze of characters and their various contrasting views on Edgar Watson tend to further illuminate the geographical flavor of South Florida which Matthiessen describes as `labyrinthine.' Just as it is easy to become lost among the mangroves and the rivers, so is it equally difficult to decipher the truths and falsehoods of the folks who lived there around the turn of the twentieth century and knew Mister Watson. I liked this book. I liked it a lot.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Stefan Herpel on August 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Peter Matthiessen is a writer of enormous sensitivity and skill. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he eschews the cliches of cynicism and nihilism, and retains a measure of idealism about the possibilities of life.
One of Matthiessen's great skills is to reproduce the local speech of simple people in a way that combines seeming authenticity with striking literary effect. Matthiessen tells the story of Mr. Watson by means of chapter-length monologues delivered by different characters in the local vernacular -- or at least Matthiessen's literary rendition of that vernacular. His ability to make those monologues seem completely authentic, while at the same time investing them with literary significance, reminded me of Twain (particularly "Huckleberry Finn") and Faulkner.
My only possible misgiving about the novel is that the author seems unwilling to pass judgment of any kind on the reputed killer, Mr. Watson. Is this because fact is so difficult to separate from fantasy that we cannot know if Mr. Watson was truly an evil man? Or is it because good and evil were relative concepts in the harsh wilderness of the Gulf coast islands in the 19th Century? Perhaps Matthiessen decided to withhold that judgment until the two later books of the trilogy, which I have not yet read.
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