KILLING MISTER WATSON by Peter Matthiessen
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Matthiessen's first novel since Far Tortuga (1974) is a tour de force as elegiac as his recent nonfictional studies (Nine-Headed Dragon River, Men's Lives) and last year's story collection, On the River Styx. Here, we're given a fictionalized investigation into the death of Edgar J. Watson--devoted family man, loyal and hard-working neighbor, and rumored multiple killer--that's also a lament for the rape of Watson's Everglades wilderness. Matthiessen begins with Watson's death--he was shot by a self-appointed posse of his neighbors as he returned to his home on November 24, 1910--and presents his earlier life in southwestern Florida through the voices of his allies, his enemies, his daughter Carrie, and Sheriff Frank B. Tippins, Carrie's unsuccessful suitor. These voices tell how Watson carves the first successful farm out of his stretch of swamp, makes a lifelong enemy of plume-hunter Jean Chevelier, and bullies a quitclaim to the island of Lost Man's Key from the Hamilton family--all the time winning the affection, envy, fear, and hatred of his neighbors. Meanwhile, stories of Watson's ties to big-money men in Fort Myers mingle with rumors that he bushwacked the famous outlaw Belle Starr years ago in Texas. But it isn't until the question of Watson's involvement in a gruesome triple murder carried out by his hired man Leslie Cox--did Watson righteously kill Cox afterward, as he claimed, or was Cox acting on Watson's orders all along?--leads to Watson's own death that Watson emerges from the tangled landscape to come into focus even as an enigma. Even though Matthiessen never lets you make up your mind about Mister Watson, the murky Florida wilderness that Watson both threatens and epitomizes is master. fully evoked.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1990
ISBN: 0679734058
Publisher: Random House