Format Hardcover
Publication Date 04/02/24
ISBN 9781639365678
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 464

Request a review copy or press kit

Swamp Kings

The Story of the Murdaugh Family of South Carolina and a Century of Backwoods Power

Jason Ryan

The stranger-than-fiction story of the now-notorious Lowcountry clan, in all its Southern Gothic intensity—by an author with unparalleled access to and knowledge of the players, the history, and the place.

The most famous man in South Carolina lives in prison. He stands convicted of a staggering amount of wrongdoing—more than 100 crimes and counting. Once a high-flying, smooth-talking, pedigreed Southern lawyer, Alex Murdaugh is now disbarred and disgraced. For more than a decade, prosecutors asserted that Alex was secretly a fraud, a thief, a drug trafficker, and an all-around phony. On the night of June 7, 2021, they claimed, he also became a killer, shooting dead his wife and son in a desperate bid to escape accountability.

The many crimes of Alex Murdaugh, exposed piecemeal over the last two years, have appalled the general public. Yet his implosion—the spectacular manner in which he has turned his vaunted family name to mud—has also proved mesmerizing. With every revelation, Alex Murdaugh has been shown to be a man without bottom, though he insists he never harmed his family.

Remarkably, all of his misdeeds have precedent. In Swamp Kings, Jason Ryan reveals Alex’s evil actions are only the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to the Murdaugh family of Hampton County, history has a way of repeating itself. For every alleged, headline-grabbing crime associated with Alex Murdaugh, mirror-image incidents have played out within his family’s past, including parallel instances of fraud, theft, illicit trafficking of babies and booze, calamitous boat crashes, and even alleged murder. There were some crimes committed by Alex’s kin that even he would not dare mimic.

Covering a century of depravity in an impoverished and isolated stretch of the Deep South, Swamp Kings weaves together the jaw-dropping narratives of generations of Murdaughs before culminating in the telling of a murder trial for the ages. Page after page the family’s legacy is laid bare as a spotlight is finally trained on the Murdaugh men who have long lorded over the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Jason Ryan is an author and journalist based in Charleston, South Carolina. He is a former reporter for The State and The Beaufort Gazette and has written for The Daily Beast and Agence-France Presse, including coverage of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the ensuing trial of killer Dylann Roof. He is the author of Jackpot: High Times, High Seas and the Sting that Launched the War on Drugs; Hell-Bent: One Man's Crusade to Crush the Hawaiian Mob (currently under option to HBOMax), and Race to Hawaii: The 1927 Dole Derby and the Thrilling First Flights that Opened the Pacific. 

Buy it now in print:

Buy it now in ebook:

Endorsements & Reviews

“Calling all true crime superfans. Swamp Kings steps back in time to fully interrogate the staggering power of the iconic Lowcountry Murdaugh family before covering its spectacular downfall. This book is required reading.” Amazon, "Best history books of April 2024, as chosen by the Amazon Editors"
“Combining meticulous historical research with riveting storytelling, Jason Ryan has crafted a rich and driving narrative on the Murdaugh family dynasty. Swamp Kings is both fascinating and unforgettable.” Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Devil in the Grove
“The tale of a Lowcountry crime dynasty operating with impunity under cover of the law. A grimly fascinating story, and as Ryan shows, Murdaugh summed up a long familial legacy. They were effectively a law unto themselves, The story unfolds with the care of a well-plotted procedural. A searing true-crime study indicting a legacy of crime stretching out over centuries.” Kirkus Reviews
“Jason Ryan has crafted the end-all-be-all narrative of the Murdaugh murders. Ryan's dogged reporting and mastery of the intimate details of the crimes, the characters, and the history of this rural backwater shines through on every murky page. In his hands, this is a far larger story than just Alex Murdaugh. It is instead a generational tale of power, greed, corruption, and ultimately murder. This will not only be the definitive account of these crimes, but it is an absolutely amazing read, one of the best books I have read in ages. I literally could not put it down.” James M. Scott, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Black Snow and Target Tokyo
Part In Cold Blood, part Prince of Tides, part Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, here is a deep family tale, draped in literal and figurative Spanish moss, that’s as dark and tangled as any Southern gothic novel. And yet sadly, it’s all true. Jason Ryan has brought tenacious and enterprising new reporting to a spectacularly sordid story that flashed through the national zeitgeist and then largely disappeared. As the pages keep effortlessly turning, the reader is made to see what the Greeks understood so well: Tragic events often have numerous and profound antecedents. Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Hellhound On His Trail and The Wide Wide Sea
“Convicted killer Alex Murdaugh left a string of bodies in his wake after years of lies and deceit. I thought I knew the whole story, but Jason Ryan’s new book, Swamp Kings, shocked me. Ryan’s deep dive into the Murdaugh family’s dark history adds even more details to this spell-binding story of a fallen family.” Kate Winkler Dawson, author of American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI
Praise for Jason Ryan

“Ryan’s thrilling book is an absolute joy to read, capturing the excitement, wonder and tragedy of this pioneering age of aviation. This is one of those rare books, like Laura Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit” and Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat.” The Charleston Post and Courier 
"Sputtering engines, empty fuel tanks, failed radios, and never-ending fog. Jason Ryan thrillingly recounts each pitfall as he details American airmen’s ultimate triumph over the world’s mightiest ocean.” Winston Groom, author of The Aviators and 
"Meticulously documented and lucidly spun. Part New Yorker feature, part Jimmy Buffet song . . . The result is adventuresome, lavish, informative fun."

“Ryan builds suspense skillfully and makes heroes out of the men and one woman who vied in the derby.” Booklist (starred review)