cover image The Marsh Queen

The Marsh Queen

Virginia Hartman. Gallery, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-9821-7160-5

Hartman debuts with a well-crafted and fast-paced family drama set in the Florida panhandle. As a girl raised on the edge of a marsh, Loni Murrow adores her Fish and Game officer father, Boyd. When Loni is 12, Boyd dies in what some insist is a boating accident, though others hint at suicide. Hartman flashes forward to the present day, 25 years later, with Loni working at the Smithsonian as a bird artist. When her brother, Phil, summons her to deal with their mother, Ruth, who has a broken wrist and possible dementia, Loni is plunged back into the small town she had hoped to leave behind. Phil and his hairdresser wife are moving Ruth into assisted living much too expeditiously for Loni’s taste, and selling Ruth’s house. Loni’s attraction to a canoe-rental proprietor, comforting visits with her dad’s avuncular former boss, and illustration work offered by her best friend at a science museum in Tallahassee keep her grounded as she investigates Boyd’s death, prompted by a mysterious letter found at Ruth’s house. The closer she gets to the truth, the more someone tries to scare her away with disturbing anonymous threats. Hartman’s 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. (Sept.)