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Killing Mr. Watson (Panther) [Paperback]

Peter Matthiessen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 April 1998 Panther
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 in the Florida Everglades. It explores whether it was murder, exorcism or sacrifice.


Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (23 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860464173
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860464171
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 981,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great American Novel 5 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback
I almost gave up on this book after finding the first chapter almost unintelligible as there are too many unfamiliar characters and an assumed understanding of the vernacular English spoken around Florida c1900. However, I'm glad I persevered as this is an excellent book which I found profound and highly enjoyable. The book contains a number of chapters from various residents of Southwest Floirida(some reliable witnesses and others less so) and explores the myth around the eponymous Mr Watson. Mr Watson is a complex character known by some for his generosity but feared by all. Hamilton lives in pioneer territory and rumours abound about his past. The life of Chevalier, an early French settler, is beautifully desribed by third parties. I would highly recommend the 'Richard Hamilton'chapters as they are full of humanity and explore the complex race relations in the area.

The themes best explored by this book are racism, the development of rumour and hearsay into myth, man's inhumanuty to his fellow man and the plundering of resources. Whilst this is a fictionalised account of real events it is clear that the author has a passion for his subject and has researched it thoroughly. This book beautifully evokes a distant time and place and I would highly recommend it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow-burn, profound, fascinating. 4 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I really enjoyed this slow-burning, long look at Florida Keys and the beginning of the taking over of the Everglades. Focussed on the murder of the local big man, Mr Watson, carried out in cold blood in public by an informal posse of the town's influential citizens, the story is told in layer upon layer of eyewitness reports, both of the killing and the events in the area which led up to it. Reminiscent of E.Annie Proulx - Postcards. Lovely slow read, truly enjoyable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  60 reviews
71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of My Favorites 22 Jun 2000
By John Noodles - Published on Amazon.com
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.
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder in the Wild South 16 Oct 2003
By J C E Hitchcock - Published on Amazon.com
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. Although this is the story of a murder, it bears little resemblance to the conventional whodunit, in which there is always a Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to act as deus ex machina and to reveal the truth to the reader and to the other characters. Rather, it is more similar to a real-life crime, in which all concerned, be they witnesses, police officers, prosecutor, defender, judge and jury have to try to make sense of a mass of conflicting evidence and testimony.
The air of ambiguity with which Mr Matthiessen invests his narrative would, in some books, be a weakness; here, it is a strength. By allowing his characters to tell the story in their own words, with no omniscient narrator to give the definitive version of events, he is able to achieve a greater depth and complexity than would be possible with a conventional third-person narrative. Although Watson is an enigmatic character, he is nevertheless a powerfully-drawn and memorable one.
Equally powerful is the description of the novel's setting. The dense, steamy, low-lying mangrove forests and swamps which made up much of Southern Florida in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were very different geographically to the high plains, deserts and mountains of the Wild West, but in cultural terms they had much in common. Both had only recently been settled by white settlers, who brought with them a culture that incorporated much of the best and the worst in American society. The best- the virtues of independence, self-reliance and hard work. The worst- the lawlessness, the obsession with honour, the willingness to settle all disputes at gunpoint, the racialism directed against both blacks and Indians. Florida today may be America's vacationland; a hundred years ago, it was the Wild South, the last remaining frontier on the east coast, a place where man was not yet in full control, where Watson and those like him struggled to make a living in the face of a hostile nature. (A hurricane plays an important part in the final turn of events in the book).
In this book, Mr Matthiessen has succeeded in the creation of a highly believable fictional world, with a fascinating character at its centre. A novel well worth reading.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredibly well-written book 18 Jan 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Well Done 20 Aug 1999
By Stefan Herpel - Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Crafted 6 Dec 2002
By F. E. Mazur - Published on Amazon.com
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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