Night Letter (Hardcover)

Night Letter By Sterling Watson Cover Image

Night Letter (Hardcover)

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A taut thriller set in Florida's desolate panhandle, part coming-of-age story, all hard-boiled noir.


“Amid the classic noir elements, author Sterling Watson slow-rolls a moving reflection on the costs to the human heart of vast social and economic change.” New York Magazine


Eighteen-year-old Travis Hollister is always the stranger who comes to town.



As a twelve-year-old escaping a disordered and unhappy home and parents who loved hard but couldn't make it work, Travis left the Midwest to spend a summer with his grandparents in the Deep South. There he met Delia, the love of his life, who, tragically, was beyond his reach for two reasons—she was his aunt, and she was sixteen years old. That summer made Travis guilty of crimes discovered and undiscovered. For his public wrongs, he did time, six years in a Nebraska reform school. For his undiscovered wrongs, he suffers mightily and wants desperately to be shriven. Can he achieve redemption or is he bound for the hell on earth he can imagine all too well?



Driven by his need to rejoin the human community, he becomes the stranger who arrives in Panama City, Florida, searching for Delia, the aunt who was the idol of his twelve-year-old passion. Who is she now? What have the years done to her? Will she welcome the return of Travis or fear it? What will she do about the return of the stranger she once held to her teenage heart.



Jean Paul Sartre said, "Hell is other people." In the course of this story, Travis learns that other people can also be salvation. Amid a cast of characters struggling with their own needs, desires, tragedies, and, yes, crimes, Travis finds violence, hatred, vengeance, and, in greater measure, friendship, honor, loyalty, and at least a glimpse of the road to redemption.



STERLING WATSON is the author of nine novels, including Sweet Dream Baby, Fighting in the Shade, Suitcase City, and The Committee, which was the 2021 Southern Literary Review book of the year. Watson’s short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Prairie Schooner, the Georgia Review, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. He was director of the creative writing program at Eckerd College for twenty years and now teaches at Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts. Of his sixth novel, Suitcase City, Tom Franklin said, “If this taut literary crime novel doesn’t center Sterling Watson on the map, we should change maps.” Watson lives in Gulfport, Florida. Night Letter is his latest work.
Product Details ISBN: 9781636140636
ISBN-10: 1636140637
Publisher: Akashic Books, Ltd.
Publication Date: January 31st, 2023
Pages: 304
Language: English
An atmospheric coming-of-age story equally touched by noir and Southern soul.
— Kirkus Reviews

Watson evocatively blends the dreamy, hormonally addled banality of teen life with the existential anxieties of lost innocence and regret. Fans of S.E. Hinton's rough-hewn teens and the gothic noir of Tennessee Williams will welcome this bittersweet tale of redemption.
— Publishers Weekly

Compelling . . . Watson crafts the plot of Night Letter skillfully, keeping the tension between Travis's past and present tight. Key to that tension is the narrative voice, which draws us into Travis's struggle to understand his obsession and the danger it can unleash . . . Memory, he discovers, is a slippery thing, and what emerges from the past has shocking reverberations in the present, and into the future.

— Tampa Bay Times

A taut thriller with a noir gloss, Night Letter balances revenge with loyalty and violence with redemption to create an evocative coming-of-age tale. This is an excellent novel which Watson writes with a precision and eloquence befitting the best of literature.

— Tallahassee Democrat

In this bleak and beautiful noir, we follow 18-year-old Travis Hollister, just released from reform school, driving through the Florida panhandle, and trying to find the woman he’s pined for since he was 12—his aunt, who’s also four years older. Publishers Weekly compares it to the works of S. E. Hinton, which is really all I need to know to want to read it.
— CrimeReads

With Night Letter, Florida author Sterling Watson proves once more that he is a master storyteller and an exemplary writer . . . Through the taut thriller/noir fabric of this novel, Watson writes with a precision and eloquence befitting the best of literature.
— Southern Literary Review

A superbly crafted work of eloquent storytelling, Night Letter by novelist Sterling Watson will have a very special appeal to readers with an interest in the combination of crime fiction and coming-of-age fiction. The result is a memorable read from first page to last.

— Midwest Book Review

Watson does a good job with atmosphere, too, in this noirish coming-of-age novel whose convoluted plot will keep the pages turning.
— Booklist

Night Letter is a psychological thriller, a coming-of-age story and a sprawling historical epic. It is a massively ambitious novel . . . It's intriguing to see what, according to Watson, lies beneath 1960s America's literal and figurative swamps.

— Reviewing the Evidence

Sterling Watson's Night Letter is a revelation and one of the most engaging books I've read in a long time. Part voice-driven coming-of-age, part atmospheric noir, the writing itself is incisive and poetic, and the characters themselves are those rare literary creations—complicated and human and real. Imagine a thriller conceived by David Goodis and written by Carson McCullers. This book helps to redefine the boundaries of contemporary American fiction.

— Joe Meno, author of Book of Extraordinary Tragedies

In Night Letter, Sterling Watson delivers an evocative tale of a young man struggling to come of age in the wake of a troubled childhood. Using pitch-perfect language, Watson transports readers to a Florida of the past and immerses them in a nuanced era. From its first page, the novel simmers with a certainty that if Watson's well-drawn protagonist is to find redemption, it will not come without a fight.

— Lori Roy, author of Gone Too Long

The novels of Sterling Watson are to be treasured and passed on to the next generation.
— Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River

Sterling Watson is an American treasure.
— Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Critical Praise for Watson's previous novels:


The Committee:


"Watson has written a fine, eloquent, powerful book and its message will remain timely. Let us heed its warning even as we savor the story so well told in its pages." —Southern Literary Review


"The Committee is a triumph of historical fiction—and a warning from our past . . . Watson is the rare writer who can address the big ideas—politics and power, love and hate, fear and freedom—without ever losing sight of the characters at the story’s heart." —Michael Koryta, New York Times best-selling author of How It Happened



"Sterling Watson is a rare find among writers as he commands all the elements of great fiction, and he continues to prove this with The Committee. In his latest must-read, Watson uses his great skill to shepherd readers back to 1950s Florida and a terrifying time when unchecked power, driven by hatred and prejudice, destroyed lives." —Lori Roy, Edgar Award–winning author of Gone Too Long


"Sterling Watson's The Committee shines a bright light on one of the darkest times in our collective history. This multilayered and complex look at how easy—and terrifying—it is for power and hatred to corrupt is a must-read for anyone who still subscribes to the notion that the 1950s were an idyllic time in American history." —Greg Herren, author of Survivor's Guilt and Other Stories


"Timely and pertinent to today's cultural and political climate, this fictional account of the persecution of gay people by the state in the 1950s reveals a part of Florida's past that sowed prejudice against our community for decades. This is a must-read." —Gale Massey, author of The Girl from Blind River


Suitcase City:

"[A] hypnotically beautiful novel . . . Paranoia has been defined as 'seeing too much pattern.' Author Watson can make us sweaty victims of that madness, partaking of it, suffering from it, and loving every minute." —Booklist, STARRED REVIEW



"I am a huge fan of Sterling Watson's writing and take it from me: Suitcase City is arguably his best novel to date. I began reading and did not look up again until the very last page, so taken was I by its twists and turns, its explorations of race and honor and the love a father has for his daughter. Turn off your phone, lock your door, and dive into Suitcase City." —Ann Hood, author of The Obituary Writer



"As Watson reminds us, corruption and cruelty survive through their uncanny ability to take on new shapes." —Laura Lippman, author of I’d Know You Anywhere


Fighting in the Shade:

"High school football mixes with Faust in this blitz of a novel from Watson . . . The novel avoids slipping into morality tale excess as it spins out a big Dennis Lehane–like story of society, opportunity, and consequences, revealing Watson as an accomplished storyteller." —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW