Killing Mister Watson

by Peter Matthiessen
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What exactly has Mister Watson done in Killing Mister Watson?

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The simple answer is we don't know precisely what Mr. Watson has done; his past is shrouded in mystery. All we know is what he claims to have done. And what he claims to have done is killed lots of people: fifty-seven of them, to be precise, if you don't count the legendary Belle Starr, whom Watson is alleged to have gunned down in a land dispute.

Although we can never know for sure if Watson really did murder Belle Starr, it's rather suspicious that he skipped town not long after the murder was committed. This lends credence to his reputation as a man with a lengthy history of violence behind him.

Matthiesen's polyphonic narrative technique—telling the story through different voices—further confuses the issue over what Watson may or may not have done. Under the circumstances, all we can do is infer from the brutal manner of Watson's death—gunned down by an armed mob—what kind of character he was.

Whatever he did, it's perfectly obvious that it wasn't such as to earn anyone's admiration. The man clearly had a lot of enemies, and it's perfectly plausible under the circumstances that he made those enemies from killing people, perhaps the friends and loved ones of those who turn up in Florida one day to hand Mister Watson a one-way ticket to Boot Hill.

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