Killing Mister Watson

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

KILLING MISTER WATSON, Peter Matthiessen’s first novel since FAR TORTUGA, is a powerful re-creation of the hostile environment that was Florida in the early twentieth century. Matthiessen is helped in this portrait by his background as a naturalist and explorer. He writes eloquently about the natural world and the individuals who must struggle to survive the elements. The focal point of the novel is Edgar J. Watson, a real historical figure who--legend says--killed the female outlaw Belle Starr. KILLING MISTER WATSON is told by the people who knew Watson. Rumor seems to rule the day. Some folks know Watson as a hard worker and a solid family man, while others believe him to be a cold-blooded murderer.

The Florida Everglades of the early 1900’s was a lawless wilderness. Outlaws and fishermen lived side-by-side; law-abiding individuals had to keep one eye peeled for desperadoes who would not think twice before killing them. Each chapter of KILLING MISTER WATSON is narrated by someone who knows Watson. In the first chapter, Watson is confronted by the sheriff with some of his neighbors and in a wild fury of gunfire Watson is killed, riddled with bullets. Each of the individuals who narrate the succeeding chapters has his or her own version of who Watson was. Newspaper clippings and diary entries are interspersed throughout the narrative.

Matthiessen has created an historical novel that reads like a documentary. KILLING MISTER WATSON is...

(The entire section is 413 words.)