Shadow Country

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1st edition (publisher: Modern Library)

Shadow Country is a novel by Peter Matthiessen, published by Random House in 2008. Subtitled A New Rendering of the Watson Legend, it is a semi-fictional account of the life of Scottish-American Edgar "Bloody" Watson (1855-1910), a real Florida sugar cane plantation owner and alleged outlaw who was killed in the remote Ten Thousand Islands region of southwest Florida in 1910. It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2008[1] and the William Dean Howells Medal in 2010.


Shadow Country is a reworked, re-edited, and retitled single-volume version of a trilogy published in the 1990s. Its three parts Killing Mr. Watson (1990), Lost Man's River (1997), and Bone By Bone (1999) correspond to the three source novels.

Book One is based on Killing Mr. Watson and is a collection of first-person narrative accounts of the Edgar "Bloody" Watson's rise to power and eventual murder at the hands of his neighbors. The book opens with the scene of Watson's shooting by a local posse on the shores of Chokoloskee Island, then pieces together first-person accounts of characters who knew him to recount the story from Watson's arrival in the Ten Thousand Islands up to his death.

Book Two is based on Lost Man's River. It is set several years after Book One, and it tells the story of Watson's youngest son, an alcoholic historian who tries to reconstruct his father's life in an attempt to determine whether he was really a murderer and an outlaw.

Book Three is based on Bone By Bone. In this first-person section, Edgar Watson tells his own life story, from his childhood in South Carolina to his fatal encounter with his neighbors on the edge of the Florida Everglades.


Critic Michael Dirda has lavished praise on the work:

Shadow Country is altogether gripping, shocking, and brilliantly told, not just a tour de force in its stylistic range, but a "Great American Novel," as powerful a reading experience as nearly any in our literature. This magnificent, sad masterpiece about race, history, and defeated dreams can easily stand comparison with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. Little wonder, too, that parts of the story of E.J. Watson call up comparisons with Dostoevsky, Conrad, and, inevitably, Faulkner. In every way, Shadow Country is a bravura performance, at once history, fiction, and myth—as well as the capstone to the career of one of the most admired and admirable writers of our time.[2]


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 2008". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-09. (With interview, acceptance speech by Matthiessen, and essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ Dirda, Michael “An Epic of the Everglades”, The New York Review of Books, May 15, 2008.


Preceded by
Tree of Smoke
Denis Johnson
National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by
Let the Great World Spin
Colum McCann