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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (original 1994; edition 1999)

by John Berendt

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8,919172333 (3.84)296
Member:abwahl1998
Title:Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Authors:John Berendt
Info:Vintage (1999), Edition: Later Printing, Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (1994)

20th century (55) American (73) American literature (51) American South (89) crime (221) fiction (649) Georgia (239) hardcover (47) history (164) literature (52) made into movie (37) memoir (84) murder (230) mystery (315) non-fiction (787) novel (93) own (58) read (133) Savannah (400) Savannah Georgia (48) signed (47) South (74) southern (104) the south (39) to-read (113) travel (78) true crime (397) unread (72) USA (58) voodoo (51)
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English (170)  Dutch (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (172)
Showing 1-5 of 170 (next | show all)
Reads like fiction but is actually the story of a real murder case that took place in Savannah, Georgia in the 1980's through to 1991. First, Berendt introduces us to a wide range of characters many of whom are eccentric but all live in or near Savannah. Many will have a part to play in the murder case or in the life of Jim Williams, the accused murderer.

Jim Williams was a wealthy antique dealer who had a young male lover. One evening, after a violent argument, Williams shot the lover and went to trial for murder four times. First three convictions were thrown out because of misdeeds by the prosecution. The last trial which had been moved from Savannah to Augusta found him not guilty.

This book reminds me of Gothic fiction for its darkness and the many characters who have secrets they do not wish exposed. Then there is the closed society of Savannah that is holding on to many of the traditions and attitudes of the old South. ( )
  lamour | Feb 11, 2014 |
John Berendt embedded himself in Savannah society over a period of 8 years. In that time, he met quite a few strange characters, two of which were fortuitously (for Berendt) involved in a sensational murder. The book is described as nonfiction, but one gets the feeling that Berendt exercised quite a bit of dramatic license given the amount of insight into the character's motivation that he describes. Berendt's writing style is lucid and flowing, so the book is a quick and enjoyable read. The surprising aspect of the book to me was the degree to which the events revolved around homosexuality. Given that the action took place in the South in the 1980s, Savannah must be a place with a good degree of tolerance for alternative lifestyles (the book includes quite a tutorial on the details of male cross-dressing, for example). Highly recommended. ( )
  ninefivepeak | Jan 4, 2014 |
Europeans are divided about the attraction of American cities. Some are fascinated by the modernity of large cities, while others lament the lack of historical awareness and the cosiness of a historical city centre.

The picture that emerges from Midnight in the garden of good and evil. A Savannah story puts Savannah in the same category of cities as New Orleans and San Francisco, in which Europeans who cannot be charmed by America's large sprawling metropolises.

The author, John Berendt, makes quite an effort to explain how citizens of Savannah realized early in the 1960s that the preservation of the historical city centre was something worth to fight for. Not all parties involved in that effort acted out of pure altruism, and the author shows how conflicts and jarring interests in that development have led to entrenched political interests that would still be important for the story in the book.

A large part of the book is spent painting up the individual characters who are either involved as primary characters in the story or on the side. The effect of these descriptions is quaint. The city centre emerges as a show-box, filled with peculiar people who are almost as quaint and old-fashioned as the historical building around them, ranging from old and fragile to the wildly exotic Chablis. The glamour of celebrity and Hollywood are sprinkled in to add to the magic.

The life and career of Jim Williams, the main character are just as illustrious, and slowly Williams appears as the main focus of the story. His extravagant lifestyle, and the entourage of his house, Mercer House, filled with the exquisite antiques he deals in, set the stage for the drama to unfold. His eccentric lifestyle paves the way for readers to view his unusual relationship. Not the fact that it is a gay relationship, but the details of this somewhat peculiar relationship with Danny Hansford. While Jim Williams is described as having a relationship of a kind with Hansford, neither is specifically or exclusively described as being gay. With Williams, there seems to be a certain degree of disinterest, while Hansford is described as a more or less bisexual hustler, a victim of circumstances.

The description of the murder investigation and trial are as unreal as anything, much like a farce, and all tainted by the hues of antiquity, as if it is set in the 1950s, or even further back, in the 1870s.

Midnight in the garden of good and evil is based on a true murder case, but the author has transposed the story in a fairlyland setting of hyperreality or magic realism. This effect is enhanced by the voice of the gossipy omniscient narrator. The book is sometimes compared with In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, but the dreamlike quality of Midnight in the garden of good and evil has very little in common with the harsh realism of Capote's novel. In fact, the book has much more in common with another work by Berendt, namely The city of falling angels. What both books have in common is a highly personalized style in which the imagination of the author runs away with facts and conversations, transforming reality into an imagined story inside the head of the author. ( )
  edwinbcn | Dec 11, 2013 |
A Savannah murder mystery rich in history, characterization and plot. Reads more like a gossip column than a work of non-fiction. ( )
  cmasson17 | Dec 5, 2013 |
Though well written, this book suffers from a confusion of sorts. It opens detailing the colorful city of Savannah before focusing on a murder trial. However, the two things felt disjointed; the trial ultimately takes the majority of your attention and you are left wondering why he bothered introducing those characters to begin with. Chablis was fascinating when first introduced, but at her second significant (and last) appearance I found myself not caring out of concern for what would next happen to Jim, the man standing trial for murder. This seemed to be the case for many of the characters introduced. Which constitutes the biggest flaw of the book; if the book is about Savannah, then Savannah become eclipsed by the story of Jim Williams. If the story is about Jim Williams, then it could have used a better editor to expunge many unnecessary details. I am not sure which at the end of my reading is the case, but I do feel this book, while very good, had something unbalancing it. ( )
  M.Campanella | Oct 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 170 (next | show all)
Elegant and wicked.... Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil might be the first true-crime book that makes the reader want to book a bed and breakfast for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime.
added by GYKM | editThe New York Times Book Review
 

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Berendtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Woodman, JeffNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine - he could see out, but you couldn't see in.
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These, then, were the images in my mental gazetteer of Savannah: rum-drinking pirates, strong-willed women, courtly manners, eccentric behaviour, gentle words, and lovely music. That and the beauty of the name itself: Savannah.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679751521, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:45 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

In charming, beautiful, and wealthy old-South Savannah, Georgia, the local bad boy is shot dead inside of the opulent mansion of a gay antiques dealer, and a gripping trial follows.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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