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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994)

by John Berendt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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14,606285379 (3.86)452
History. True Crime. Nonfiction. HTML:Read John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in Large Print.
* All Random House Large Print editions are published in a 16-point typeface
Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty,early morning hours of May 2, 1981.  Was it murder or self-defense?  For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares.  John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction.  Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.
It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight.  These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story is a sublime and seductive reading experience.  Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this enormously engaging portrait of a most beguiling Southern city is certain to become a modern classic.
… (more)
  1. 30
    The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Offering rich details of Savannah in the 1980s (Midnight in the Garden) and Chicago in the 1890s (Devil in the White City), these well-researched and dramatic recreations of terrible crimes are equally compelling, despite differences in time period and location.… (more)
  2. 00
    Run with the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams (libelulla1)
    libelulla1: Filled with quirky characters in a southern town.
  3. 00
    The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Othemts)
  4. 12
    The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean (VictoriaPL)
  5. 01
    Murder in Mississippi by John Safran (Elcee)
  6. 01
    The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale (libelulla1)
    libelulla1: Both are true crime told in narrative format and the crime in each is never fully explained, only speculated about.
  7. 13
    Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World's Largest Casino by Jeff Benedict (jbvm)
    jbvm: This is another 'truth is stranger than fiction' work involving local politics and criminal investigation.
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» See also 452 mentions

English (281)  Spanish (2)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (285)
Showing 1-5 of 281 (next | show all)
Nonfiction books, even those covering a specific event in a specific setting, tend to be a little dull in their dry factualness. Nonfiction true crime has a tendency toward moralizing. Berendt’s story of a young man killed by his lover/employer in an isolated Georgia town avoids both. He carries the reader along with charming descriptions of the people of Savannah, who seem just like crazy characters in a Southern Gothic lit novel. But these are real people, and supposedly the stories he tells about them are real, as well, and I would get a sudden jolt when he’d slip a chilling fact in amongst the tale of some cheerful eccentricity, such as the town’s complacent acceptance of a jury letting a group of men go free because the victim they stomped to death was “just” a homosexual, or of Savannah’s extraordinarily high murder rate because the victims are mostly black, so it’s “a black problem”.

His storytelling is calculated to entertain, and he treats the town and its people with affection, but he does not refrain from telling the whole story and leaving the judgement up to the reader.

I read this book for the Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season challenge. This book was for Task the Third: The Holiday Party (Read a book where a celebration is a big part of the action), because the action in the book revolves around a series of parties and ceremonies, from the annual Christmas party given by the killer, to the never-ending house party given by the lawyer/conman, to the society ladies’ exclusive tea parties, to the midnight graveyard ceremonies conducted by the voodoo woman. ( )
  Doodlebug34 | Jan 1, 2024 |
This is my second reading of “the book” as it became known in Savannah after being published in 1994, spawning a film version and a resurgence of tourism. Journalist John Berendt came down from New York, stayed a few years, and managed to capture the insular eccentricity of a small slice of Savannah’s culture. He wrote about Lady Chablis, Joe Odum, Jim Williams and other compelling characters with a sharp eye.

The Savannah in the book, one of hard drinking, high and low society; old, new and no money may be history now, but still lives on in some way. Berendt portrayed Savannah as the most interesting place he knew, that was his art. It drew, and still draws, an uncounted number of tourists trying to capture his version of the city.

Drinking, backbiting and gossip are the major activities and sport in the story. Antique dealer Jim Williams and his four murder trials for shooting his young lover are central to the book. His trial defense employs the unique services of a voodoo woman named Minerva. “She’s thrown graveyard dirt at some of the best homes in Savannah, God bless her,” Williams told Berendt. “I give her twenty-five dollars a day, and I’ve learned not to ask questions.” ( )
  Hagelstein | Dec 16, 2023 |
True crime is not really my kind of genre. I vaguely remembered the movie, so when I happened to come across the book I decided to give it a try.

It was a rather slow read, and I got distracted at times. The book was very well-written though, and full of quirky, eccentric, wonderful, funny and horrible people. There is voodoo as well :-)

P.S. I went to Google maps street view to take a closer look at Savannah. ( )
  Alexandra_book_life | Dec 15, 2023 |
Reason read: I meant to read this in October but it wasn’t available. I bought it in Savannah. This is a book you should read before you go to Savannah but having been there it made it possible to picture the different scenes. What a bunch of characters. Savannah is and was an interesting town. I would call this a nonfiction novel. ( )
  Kristelh | Dec 4, 2023 |
I could have sworn I read this when it came out but none of it seemed like I had read it before, so anyway, I took the plunge. What an excellent book about the eccentric people of Savannah GA.
Plus a murder trial which is also quite entertaining. ( )
  zmagic69 | Dec 2, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 281 (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 (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Berendt, JohnAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carson, Carol DevineCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heald, AnthonyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martínez-Lage, MiguelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pardi, AndrásTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piélat, ThierryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rijk, Peter deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilczek, PiotrTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woodman, JeffNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my parents
First words
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.
Quotations
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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This is the book, not the film.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

History. True Crime. Nonfiction. HTML:Read John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in Large Print.
* All Random House Large Print editions are published in a 16-point typeface
Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty,early morning hours of May 2, 1981.  Was it murder or self-defense?  For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares.  John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction.  Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.
It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight.  These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story is a sublime and seductive reading experience.  Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this enormously engaging portrait of a most beguiling Southern city is certain to become a modern classic.

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