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.

“For fans of Where the Crawdads Sing, this “marvelous debut” (Alice McDermott, National Book Award–winning author of The Ninth Hour) follows a Washington, DC, artist as she faces her past and the secrets held in the waters of Florida’s lush swamps and wetlands.

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.””

Don't just take our word for it...

“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.”
– Booklist

“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

“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

Taste the very first page

If I were a different person, I could move forward and never look back, never try to fathom the forces that shaped me for the worse. But there are times when a fog rolls in, slow as dusk, beginning with a nodule of regret. I should have, why didn’t I, if only. I replay the day my father left us for good, the sun showing orange through the live oak, him pacing at the bottom of the porch steps, twelve-year-old me looking down with my baby brother, Philip, on one hip. I winced as I gently extracted a strand of my dark brown hair from his doughy little grasp.

Daddy bounced his feet on the bottom step and squinted up. “Look, darlin’. Miss Joleen next door can help your mama with the baby. So how’s about it, Loni Mae? You comin’ with me?”

My dad hadn’t gone fishing in months. But he’d grown restless, knocking into furniture and slamming the screen door. There was a thrumming in the house like the wind before a storm.

That day, my mother said, “Boyd, go on! You’re pacing the house like a caged animal.”

I’d have given almost anything to be out fishing in the swamp with him, to draw every creature I saw, to watch and listen as before. But how could I? I had to stay. Now that Philip was here, I served a purpose in my house. I held him while my mother talked on the phone, while she rested or did housework. I knew how to make him laugh those…