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  • Writer's pictureJulie Mackin

Southern Gothic

Swamp Kings The Story of the Murdaugh Family of South Carolina and a Century of Backwoods Power by Jason Ryan

Stars: 3.5

Who doesn’t love a good true crime story that follows one family over almost a hundred years, a small town drama in the swamps of South Carolina? Jason Ryan’s book examines the Murdaugh family, which has acted as the solicitors in their corner of the Palmetto state, reigning benevolently of the judicial system in the 14th judicial circuit, as long as you didn’t cross them. Last year's sensational trial of Alex Murdaugh for the murder of his wife and son brought the country’s attention to this family and there are a lot of skeletons in their closets. Ryan doesn’t go easy on the family but you can see why he, and anyone, might fall under their spell a bit. This book is a real life Southern Gothic tale. 

So, let’s start with the good, this book was obviously well-researched and the writing is great. The story is fascinating, so obviously it is going to hold your interest. The main problem, and this is a huge issue, is the structure of the book; each chapter deals with a seemingly separate subject but it incorporates all four generations of Murdaughs at different times, so Ryan will be discussing a case argued by Randolph Murdaugh in one paragraph and he will switch over to the discussion of Buster Murdaugh’s marriage but there are like three Busters and four Randys so you aren’t quite sure which one you are now reading about. I think if you are reading the book it might be a bit confusing but when you are listening and can’t flip back to the beginning where Ryan lists the members of the family and their birth years, it is incredibly distracting. I appreciate that Ryan was taking a chance and trying to avoid a chronological story, but I think it would have read better that way - there were so many court cases discussed, all really interesting, but we were jumping between time periods and the story doesn’t build on itself and show how the family consolidated their power. And look, I’m a genealogist, I can deal with people with the same name, but even I couldn’t keep people straight because I didn’t feel like I had enough time to understand one man before we moved on to another and then another. 

I would recommend this book, but definitely as an e-book or physical book so that you can easily refer back to the beginning. 

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