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Night Letter


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

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$28.95 $21.71

What people are saying…

“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

“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

“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.”

“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

“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 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

“An atmospheric coming-of-age story equally touched by noir and Southern soul.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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

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

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

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


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.

Book Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Published: 1/31/23
  • IBSN: 9781636140636
  • e-IBSN: 9781636140643


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.

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