deep in Florida as the 19th century turned


“Shadow Country” is a great big book that I read in the early spring of this year as American culture celebrated a pair of monomaniacal killers, Sweeney Todd and Anton Chigurh. The central axle of Peter Matthiessen’s magnificent and capacious novel is another larger-than-life figure, E.J. Watson (Bloody Watson, Emperor Watson), who was a brave and indefatigable pioneer in the Florida Everglades and an astonishing liar and murderer.

For his renegade behavior, his rigid code for revenge, his skill with firearms, his winning volubility and, finally, his reflection, he dwarfs these other killers. Watson is at once a real man in a rough world and a figure cut from legend (some of which he encouraged). Ultimately, he represents the American conquest of the frontier, which this novel proves once and for all was not a pretty or romantic enterprise or one accompanied by fairness or justice. Watson did what he wanted when he wanted, regardless of the law as it was at the outset of the 20th century.

Such a book requires a vivid and convincing world, and Matthiessen — who knows the truth of place as well as any writer — gives us an effulgent setting here, the edge of edge, the raw and ravishing Everglades deep in Florida as the 19th century turned.

more from the LA Times Book Review here.