Book Review: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

John Berendt

Random House Publishing Group

400 pages

Do you ever find a book that just kind of creeps up on you?  Maybe you don’t even realize the enormity of your love for it until you’ve finished reading it?  You just can’t let it go because it’s consuming your thoughts?  That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The setting is Savannah , Georgia , a place full of southern hospitality and charm.  Author John Berendt has travelled down there intending to spend time between that locale and his home in New York , however he soon finds that he rarely is able to leave Savannah .  Thus, he stays there five years.  Immediately he envelopes himself into Savannah ’s high society.  Somehow he is able to ingratiate himself among people from all walks of life living in Savannah .  Thereby begins the development of a cast of characters, the likes of which you have never seen before!

Jim Williams: An antiques dealer who lives in the Mercer House, a posh historical home in the heart of Savannah .  Jim throws a Christmas party every year which is the highlight of society functions.

Joe Odom: The guy that can swindle you for all you’re worth but whom you still want to be buddy-buddy with.  It’s a rare characteristic!

Lady Chablis: The super loud drag queen performer whose liberal use of the f-word is shocking and comical.

The Lady Chablis

Luther Driggers: It is speculated that Driggers has in his possession a bottle of poison that could wipe out the entire population.  Not to mention, he often is seeing walking flies on long strings of thread.

Minerva: The “witch” that casts spells on the prosecuting legal team during Jim Williams’s trial.  She is also known to visit her lovers’ grave at midnight to beg for lottery numbers.

That’s only a small taste of the characters sprinkled throughout Berendt’s book.  That may have been helpful for me to know from the beginning, as the book was not at all what I expected.  You see, MitGoGaE (yes, I really went there!) is really a character based book.  It may be characterized as true crime, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.  The book really encompasses so much more.

The center of the book details the trial of Jim Williams.  Williams is charged with the death of his employee/lover Danny Hansford but his claim is that the shooting was done in self defense.  Williams is then tried FOUR times, with the first two convictions thrown out and the third trial ending in a mistrial.  As with your typical true crime book, the trials are all featured in the book.  However, they are nowhere near as extensive as you would generally find in a true crime book.  I understand why Berendt minimized the coverage of the trials and I wholeheartedly agree that he was right in doing so, but I feel like maybe he left out a tad too much.  The trial coverage was limited to just a few pages for each trial.  I am glad that there was no repetitiveness to the trial coverage though, and I am sure that is one thing that Berendt was trying to avoid.

MitGoGaE spent years on the NY Times bestseller lists, and I can completely understand why that is.  Despite the fact that it is not your typical true crime fare, it definitely ranks up there with the classics, such as In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter.

Other Reviews:

A Fondness for Reading

Bookshelves of Doom

Shelf Love

Novel Insights

I borrowed this book from my mother.

This book counts towards the RIP V challenge.

21 Responses

  1. I loved this book 🙂 I read this way, way back. And then my copy got eaten by termites. Boo hoo.

  2. I have had this book for quite some time but I’ve still never managed to read it. It sounds extraordinary but I’m not actually that into true crime – now that you’ve said it’s more based around characters, I suspect I’ll be able to enjoy it more.

  3. Hm, I’m still not sure this is one I want to read, but I do know what you mean about a book creeping up on you like that. Never Let Me Go did the same thing to me last year.

  4. I loved this books, and your enthusiastic review makes me want to pick it up again! There is also a movie, but I didn’t like it as much as the book (surprise, surprise!).

  5. I love your review of Midnight… we were flipping through our copy the other day and noticed it was autographed by Emma Kelly. Has it really been so long since we last read it!

    Thanks for the review and reminder, I think I’ll let it creep up on me again this fall.

  6. I LOVED this book too! If you’ve never been to Savannah before, you’ve got to go now – the book will come alive for you.

  7. I read this book last year while in Savannah on my honeymoon! That was the absolutely perfect time to read it, I think, and I enjoyed it so much. Tony and I watched the film version a few months back but it’s just nowhere near as good; it really tries to simplify everything, especially when the trial starts and I thought that was a real shame. It’s weird, but I definitely felt like the book gave a stronger sense of Savannah than the movie did (which was filmed there!).

  8. To me this was more a memoir and story of people than it was true crime – and the characters are fabulous!

  9. Thanks for the link Lola! I loved this book too, and you’re right it really does creep up on you as I wasn’t sure that I would until I’d finished…

  10. I don’t usually read true crime, but I loved this one! I read it quite a few years ago and still have images and think about the characters. Glad you enjoyed it so much.

  11. I’ve seen this one everywhere because of RIP V, but I had no idea what it was about.

    Savannah is such a fantastic place for a book to set! I think I might just pick it up based on that.

  12. I absolutely LOVED this book — when I went to Savannah after reading this, it was so wonderful to be in the city and see the places these people would go to. In comparison to the book, the film version is just “okay.”

  13. I love a good mix of eccentric characters in a book , so for that reason I think I definitely need to pop this down onto my TBR list.

  14. I never had any plans of reading this book, but you’ve made me reconsider, especially because of the cast of eccentric characters.

  15. It’s sad to admit how long i have owned this book and I STILL haven’t read it!

  16. I love this book! Have you ever been to Savannah? They do tours based on the book, and last time I was there, the Book, as they call it there, was everywhere! I tried to read his more recent book about Venice, but it didn’t capture my interest in the same way.

  17. I read this book a long time ago and thoroughly enjoyed the book.

  18. Ooo, this one sounds so good! I randomly bought it at Goodwill awhile ago because I thought I remembered hearing something good about it and I tend to like true crime. I like that you included it in your RIP list – that makes me want to read it in October!

  19. I read this many years ago too (though, also, am not much of a true crime reader) … enjoyed it a lot, particularly for the way he evokes the place. I’ve been to Savannah briefly once, but since reading it have wanted to go back.

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