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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story Paperback – June 28, 1999
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John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been heralded as a "lyrical work of nonfiction," and the book's extremely graceful prose depictions of some of Savannah, Georgia's most colorful eccentrics--remarkable characters who could have once prospered in a William Faulkner novel or Eudora Welty short story--were certainly a critical factor in its tremendous success. (One resident into whose orbit Berendt fell, the Lady Chablis, went on to become a minor celebrity in her own right.) But equally important was Berendt's depiction of Savannah socialite Jim Williams as he stands trial for the murder of Danny Hansford, a moody, violence-prone hustler--and sometime companion to Williams--characterized by locals as a "walking streak of sex." So feel free to call it a "true crime classic" without a trace of shame.
From Publishers Weekly
After discovering in the early 1980s that a super-saver fare to Savannah, Ga., cost the same as an entree in a nouvelle Manhattan restaurant, Esquire columnist Berendt spent the next eight years flitting between Savannah and New York City. The result is this collection of smart, sympathetic observations about his colorful Southern neighbors, including a jazz-playing real estate shark; a sexually adventurous art student; the Lady Chablis (' "What was your name before that?" I asked. "Frank," she said.' "); the gossipy Married Woman's Card Club; and an assortment of aging Southern belles. The book is also about the wealthy international antiques dealer Jim Williams, who played an active role in the historic city's restoration--and would also be tried four times for the 1981 shooting death of 21-year-old Danny Handsford, his high-energy, self-destructive house helper. The Williams trials--he died in 1990 of a heart attack at age 59--are lively matches between dueling attorneys fought with shifting evidence, and they serve as both theme and anchor to Berendt's illuminating and captivating travelogue.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The main character in this novel is first and foremost, Savannah, Georgia. Such a glorious and mysterious backdrop for such an intriguing storyline -- and John Berendt fleshed it out so magnificantly, that Savannah breathes and lives as easily as those who live there. Mostly this book is about a rich antique dealer, Jim Williams, who was accused of murder. However, it is not an ordinary murder case -- all sorts of twists come out of the woodwork for this one, making this novel not only a true-crime story, but a mystery as well. Surrounding the murder aspect are the citizens of Savannah that the author comes in contact with: Luther Driggers, a former pesticide employee, who has a vial of poison potent enough to kill every one in the county; Chablis, the potty-mouthed drag queen and performer; Joe Odom, a modern vagrant who uses his home(s) as a tourist stop; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who uses roots, herbs, and graveyard dirt to weave her magic spells.
Excellent writing and amazing storytelling make Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and must-have book. One of the better novels I have read this year. I watched the movie afterwards, but the book, by far, tells the story better. I recommend this one to everyone -- southern fiction fans will delight in its eccentricities, true-crime lovers will enjoy the murder case, and armchair travelers will be booking trips to Savannah soon after the close of this book! Good job, John Berendt!
The book: While I did enjoy it.....I thought it could have done without all that history....too much ...kind of spoiled the book...but I could see the parts that were brought out in the movie and I COMMEND the man who wrote the script for the movie.....he was a GENIUS....to be able to pull that movie out of that book was sheer mastery! unfortunately, sometime it's better not to watch the movie after reading the book and vice versa.....but I think it's always wise to do both....because there are things in the book that explain things that don't come out in the movie
LOVE LOVE LOVE Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
I thought the book would be more about the murder at Mercer House and the trial. Though it did have aspects of it; the author seemed more interested in a transgender (Lady Chablis), debutante balls, and gossip. Nothing connected! He bounced around and if this is supposed to be a story of fact, his writing made it come across as fantasy.
Having visited Savannah, I could recognize streets and such when mentioned in the book, but overall was not thrilled with this. If you want to learn about the Mercer House Murder and trial, this isn't the book for it. After Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is much better. That one focused on the story I thought I'd get with this one.
Basically, it is a true crime novel, but it is written with warmth, humor, and a remarkable eye for detail. Berendt takes the reader behind velvet curtains and antique walls into a society where pedigree is based as much on lineage, wealth, and power as on quirky southern traditions like knowing how to serve a fine platter of tomato sandwiches.
Forget Eastwood's oddly disappointing film; this book is quite marvelous. True crime lover? You will enjoy the book's steamy setting and colorful characters, an almost poetic break from the repetitive and merely competant writings by the likes of Ann Rule. Aristocracy - watcher? You will savour the odd little schemes and intrigues exposed without any hint of malice. The tragic saga of one man's extraordinary ascent into high society is presented amidst many delicious (and often hilarious) vignettes of all levels of Savannah's class structure. The author beautifully describes Savannah's magic, mystery, and achingly sad decay. Really, it is a fine tribute to this historic city of likeable conmen, sexy ne'er-do-wells, conniving politicians, and obsessive hostesses.
It's a real page-turner, a good companion if you are planning to visit Savannah.