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Killing Mister Watson (Shadow Country Trilogy #1)

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,315 Ratings  ·  136 Reviews
By the author of "The Snow Leopard", "The Tree Where Man Was Born" and "On the River Styx", this novel is based around the circumstances of the death of a man in Florida 1910, who had terrorized his community and who very possibly had a criminal past.
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 11th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1990)
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Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
A fine example of Southern literature written by a guy from New York.

Matthiessen's historic fiction falls somewhere between James Agee and Harry Crews, a good read. I also noted influences or allusions to Flannery O'Connor, the obligatory nod to Faulkner, and more than a passing similarity to Macbeth.

This was my great-grandparent's generation in pioneer southwest Florida in the 1890s, rich and vibrant, the swamps and mud stick to the pages.

Dec 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting book -- set in the "frontier/wilderness" area of south Florida around 1900, told from multiple viewpoints. Mr. Watson was an enigmatic figure -- farmer, family man, good neighbor, and probable killer. This is the first in a trilogy in which the author is teasing out the real story (and its meaning?) from legend. Story is told by revolving cast of neighbors and relatives, second book is from the viewpoint of a son, and third is told by Mr. Watson. Not sure if I'm up to the stor ...more
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
"But the truth don't count for much after all these years, cause folks hang on to what it suits 'em to believe and won't let go of it." Killing Mr. Watson, p. 92

Historically, Edgar "Bloody" Watson did exist and he was really killed by a posse in the Islands along the west coast of Florida. Matthiessen provides the full story of the the life and times of Watson based on amazing oral history accounts by the people of the Florida Islands. Having conducted, transcribed and edited a lot of oral histo
May 05, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I think the reason I’m bothering with this at all is because I wanted to use the word turgid. Turgid. It’s a good word. I get to use it far too little.

Making the halfway point on this may have changed my mind, but every other time I’ve stuck it out regardless, I’ve regretted it. Some things are not for me. Books like this are one of those things.
Apr 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some writers write fiction, some non-fiction, and never the twain shall meet. Right? I don’t think so. A good writer can write whatever they want. Perhaps the best example living today is Peter Matthiessen.

Matthiessen started his writing career as a novelist, a spinner of tales, but he is perhaps best known for some of his non-fiction works, “Wildlife in America” (1959), “Snow Leopard” (1980), “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” (1983).

In the 1990s however, he returned to the novel and wrote what i
Jun 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
The first part of this blew me away. From the potent, almost biblical description of the eponymous deed which opens the book, to the incredible range of voices full of history, rumor and conspiracy about E.J. Watson, and about the weird, insular world of the Florida everglades circa 1900. the book feels almost like a contemporary as I Lay Dying. And like Faulkner, Matthiessen is interested in burrowing deep into a specific, woebegone locale and pulling its darkest parts out for investigation; th ...more
Oct 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkable account of life in The Thousand Islands(SW Florida) in the early part of the 20th Century. The descriptions made my skin crawl in discomfort. How they coped with the 'skeeters'( mosquitoes) I will never know.

So here I am almost 5 years later and this book remains strong in my mind. Proof, if proof is needed , of a great book.
Sarah Wortman
Sep 05, 2007 rated it did not like it
Lord I hated this book! It's the story of a community's plot to kill a hated neighbor from multiple perspectives in the Florida Everglades in the 1800s. Even if I could get beyond the liberal use of the "n" word (which I really can't), the whole book just made me want to take lots and lots of showers. Ick!
Martin Zook
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: amlit
Edgar J. Watson is in the pantheon of American bad guys, right up there with Cormac McCarthy's Judge Holden.

If your honest, and who among us is not, he is an ambiguous figure, like Holden. Oh, don't get me wrong, I know the jury of readers, feeling compelled to decide one way or the other, would sent Edgar J. and The Judge to the scaffold and then go home to settle down to a nice family dinner on linen table cloth and never have a doubt about the rightness of what they'd done.

Don't get me wrong.
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely brilliant. I must find the other two in the trilogy and complete it. Or, I'll have to find the single volume that Matthiessen wrote that retells the three books in one and for which he won a major award - National Book Award, I believe.

This was a remarkable telling in multiple voices of a time in southern history just following the Civil War. Focusing on south Florida and a man named Mr. Watson who supposedly truly lived, Matthiessen creates a living "history" of a possible legend who
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel has been read by a good number of my family members. It deals with the mystery that shrouds the account of the lawless Ten Thousand Islands off the Gulf Coast of SW.FL. regarding Edgar J. Watson. My family is an integral part of this novel. This is a work of fiction, however, the late Mr. Matthiessen did his research. Watson was made out to be a monster of the Everglades. He was an outlaw, yes. But the inhabitants of the islands might have made more out of him than truly was. The turn ...more
Buck Ward
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Killing Mister Watson took place near where I live in southwest Florida, a little more than a century ago. I know the place names and the family names. I have stood where the killing took place, at Smallwood's store at Chokoloskee, though I didn't know about it at the time. The story is told in the remembrances of the happenings, the gossip, and the rumors of the people who were there. It seems authentic. I may have rated this higher than some others might because of its locations, the history t ...more
John Brugge
Dec 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Wonderful storytelling in an obscure corner of U.S. history, the Everglades area of Florida at the turn of the 20th century. It took me a while to get hooked, with the number of people involved leaving me disoriented; I almost feel like I should read it a second time. In the end, it's a tapestry of personal views on Mr. Watson, and the facets of an image begin to emerge.
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Too long
Category,Historical fiction, Southern Gothic. Based on a true character, Edgar "Bloody" Watson, and it follows rise to power and eventual death at the hands of his neighbors. The degradation of the Everglades and it's wildlife is uncovered in sad detail and the harsh living conditions and the few people that could tolerate them in remote SW Florida at the end of the nineteenth century are brought to life.
Although officially "fiction", Matthiessen's great research of available diaries and journal
I want to put my main point first before I forget it: what sticks out most about this book to me is that if you're attractive people will give you all kinds of leeway and make excuses for you endlessly. Being a large, white man also helps, of course.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward
Slow slog read. Interesting in the long run, but not the easiest of reads.
Mindy Kannon
I've tried but I just can't finish this book. The history of that portion of Florida is very interesting but the story is so drab and drawn out I can't take it. This book is a sleeper.
Elizabeth Sims
I'm usually a patient reader and can figure out a way into almost any novel, but man, this one just kept leaving me cold. Somehow it didn't, to use a cliche, make me care about the characters. I know lots of other readers love this. It's one of those hard nuts for me.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
The novel Killing Mister Watson is based on a real life event that took place between 1855 and 1910. This novel is about a man named Edgar J. Watson who kills Belle Starr who is a well-known criminal in the Fort Smith, Arkansas at the time. Edgar boasted many times about killing many people, but was only accused in 1889 for killing Belle Starr. Edgar and other characters narrate their versions of what crimes Edgar did and did not commit in the Fort Smith, Arkansas, and even though he was never o ...more
Jun 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Killing Mr Watson" is set in the "Ten Thousand Islands" region of the Florida Everglades in the years just before and after the turn of the last century. White settlers are mostly pioneers, looking for a place to start, or start over, or in which to hide. They co-exist, for the most part, with Native Americans and blacks; make up the law as they go along; and eke out a living farming, fishing, and hunting. Enter Mr. Watson, a visionary with a murky past, charming persona, generous neighbor, ski ...more
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Angle of Repose meets Blood Meridian. Great balance of fiction and nonfiction elements, beautiful writing:

he couldn't pour piss out of boot with an instruction manual on the heel

looks like he's come around the bend a second time

see you in hell (go to hell and stay there) what makes you think we ain't arrived already

Sometimes I rode all the way east to the Everglades, long silent days under the broad sky in the hard fierce light of the Glades country, lost in the creak of my old worn-out saddle a
May 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Mr. Edward J Watson was a real person living off and on in South Florida during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. There are some known facts about him and the rest of this story is, as Peter Matthiessen says, "a life re-imagined." Southwestern Florida at the time was a maze of islands and rivers as well as the totally unreclaimed Everglades. It was a place where fugitives, bad men and runaways hid out. It was every bit as lawless as the wild west and in some ways more so.

Watson was a polit
Dec 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
This seemed to be a very long book, in spite of the fact that it's only 1/3 of the original (Shadow Country). I was a bit weary of it about halfway through, but then it all started to come together and I began to appreciate the excellent writing. It is true literature and written in a creative and unique style. I will definitely seek out more Peter Matthiessen books. The story is based on actual accounts of people who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the Thousand Islands area of wester ...more
Andy Todd
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Astonishing, inspiring, masterly, breathtaking writing.
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Here's the skinny on this book, a volume that takes "quirky" to a new level. Matthiessen presents the story of a very interesting, complex and tortured character through the eyes and words of his actual associates, contemporaries, enemies and family, switching from account to account and back again among the characters. Here and there, like a landscaper, he plants newspaper and other documented accounts for clarification, maybe to bring the reader's feet back to the ground.
The scene is a Florida
Jun 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The fictional account of real life mass murderer farmer/entrepreneur/desperado "Bloody" Ed Watson, who lived in what is now the Everglades at the turn of the other century. Told from different first person perspectives of those who knew him, you get a sense of what a multi-faceted and enigmatic character he was. It's hard to know how many people Watson actually killed, but the number is probably between 5-25. Most were probably farm hands of his who actually wanted their wages, some were honor k ...more
Lora Stovall
Dec 17, 2011 rated it liked it
A novelization of a historical event - the killing of a man by a group of his neighbors. Mister Watson was believed to have murdered several people, but was also a good farmer and respected (and feared) neighbor. The book is written as a series of summaries of interviews of the neighbors, some of whom participated in the shooting. There are also sections from the viewpoint of Mr. Watson's family. The story takes place in the Florida everglades in the early 20th century, and the discussion of con ...more
David Ward
Killing Mr. Watson (Shadow Country #1) by Peter Matthiessen (Vintage Books 1990) (Fiction). This is the first in a trilogy set at in the late 1800's and early 1990's. It tells the vast sweeping tale of "The Outlaw Edgar Watson" or "Bloody Watson" from the Ten Thousand Islands in deepest Southwest Florida - Everglades country. Watson was a plantation owner, sugarcane grower, fisherman, and bully of the highest order in a particularly lawless and uncontrolled part of the country. He was shot dead ...more
Jul 05, 2016 rated it liked it
This is the story of a Mr. Watson who lives in the backwater Keys of Florida in early 1900s. Based on a historical myth of a person, Mr. Watson is both interested in progress for his little community and also a psychopath. As with much that happened in Florida at that time, it's hard to know what is true and what is exaggeration. We never hear from Mr. Watson, only from the locals around him who either despise Mr. Watson, or fear him, or just put him up with because what else can you do in the w ...more
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Peter Matthiessen is the author of more than thirty books and the only writer to win the National Book Award for both non-fiction (The Snow Leopard, in two categories, in 1979 and 1980) and fiction (Shadow Country, in 2008). A co-founder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer and activist, he died in April 2014.
More about Peter Matthiessen...

Other Books in the Series

Shadow Country Trilogy (3 books)
  • Lost Man's River
  • Bone by Bone