The Marsh Queen (Hardcover)
Loni Murrow is an accomplished bird artist at the Smithsonian who loves her job. But when she receives a call from her younger brother summoning her back home to help their obstinate mother recover after an accident, Loni’s neat, contained life in Washington, DC, is thrown into chaos, and she finds herself exactly where she does not want to be.
Going through her mother’s things, Loni uncovers scraps and snippets of a time in her life she would prefer to forget—a childhood marked by her father Boyd’s death by drowning and her mother Ruth’s persistent bad mood. When Loni comes across a single, cryptic note from a stranger—“There are some things I have to tell you about Boyd’s death”— she begins a dangerous quest to discover the truth, all the while struggling to reconnect with her mother and reconcile with her brother and his wife, who seem to thwart her at every turn. To make matters worse, she meets a man in Florida whose attractive simple charm threatens everything she’s worked toward.
Pulled between worlds—her professional accomplishments in Washington, and the small town of her childhood—Loni must decide whether to delve beneath the surface into murky half-truths and either avenge the past or bury it, once and for all.
The Marsh Queen explores what it means to be a daughter and how we protect the ones we love. Suzanne Feldman, author of Sisters of the Great War, writes that “fans of Delia Owens and Lauren Groff will find this a wonderful and absorbing read.”
“With its atmospheric swampland setting, Hartman’s debut brings to mind Delia Owens' blockbuster Where the Crawdads Sing (2018), while the mystery itself is on par with Stacy Willingham’s A Flicker in the Dark (2022) . . . [T]he fast pace and short chapters keep the story moving for an enjoyable ride.”
“Hartman debuts with a well-crafted and fast-paced family drama set in the Florida panhandle . . . [Her] depiction of the natural setting show her to be a talented writer, as do the well-executed takes on museum work, botany, and ornithology. Readers will hope to see Loni back for more.”
“Hartman’s first novel is interwoven with strong natural history themes, evoking the works of Barbara Kingsolver.”
“Steeped in the lush rhythms and murky shadows of the Florida Wetlands, Virginia Hartman’s The Marsh Queen is at once a gripping mystery, a devastating family drama, a romance, and a tribute to the natural world. Loni Murrow is a character who will stay with me for a long time. An astonishing debut.”
—Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept
“Part romance, part mystery, The Marsh Queen unwinds its entangled story lines with measured grace. Virginia Hartman shares with her bird artist narrator a keen eye and a precise touch, as well as a wry understanding of the way the natural world comforts and sustains. This is a marvelous debut, witty and wise.”
—Alice McDermott, National Book Award-winning author of The Ninth Hour
“A unique blend of literature and mystery, with deft evocations of Florida’s flora and sometimes malignant fauna, The Marsh Queen finds a compelling Southern-noir niche all its own and marks Virginia Hartman as a writer to watch.”
—Louis Bayard, author of Courting Mr. Lincoln, Lucky Strikes, and The Pale Blue Eye
“The setting is distinctive, Loni is like a girl-detective grown up, and it crackles with trouble and action.”
—Ellen Prentiss Campbell, author of Frieda’s Song
“Subtle and complex, The Marsh Queen navigates the currents and backwaters of family relationships, the Florida swamplands, and a mysterious death that occurred twenty-five years before. Like Barbara Kingsolver, Hartman delves deep into the natural world to explore her characters, and in this case, the connections between one haunted woman and the waters that took her father's life. Fans of Delia Owens and Lauren Groff will find this a wonderful and absorbing read.”
—Suzanne Feldman, author of Sisters of the Great War
“Loni Murrow, the protagonist in Virginia Hartman's harrowing urban-rural novel, knows that it's not that you can’t go home again, but what wretched truths might await you there. In The Marsh Queen there are stories within stories, there are stunning family secrets, there's an almost gothic séance atmosphere—all of that is beautifully orchestrated. But at heart this novel is a kind of mythic journey; let's call it The Daughter's Search for Truth, Love and Redemption.”
—Howard Norman, author of Next Life Might Be Kinder