Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

If I could just hop on an airplane today and go anywhere, it would be to Savannah. I just finished Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt, and I was captured by the place … or as the author said, “I was beguiled by Savannah.”

Abruptly, the trees gave way to an open panorama of marsh grass the color of wheat. Straight ahead, a tall bridge rose steeply out of the plain. From the top of the bridge, I looked down on the Savannah River and, on the far side, a row of old brick buildings fronted by a narrow esplanade. Behind the buildings a mass of trees extended into the distance, punctuated by steeples, cornices, rooftops, and cupolas. As I descended from the bridge, I found myself plunging into a luxuriant green garden. 

Walls of thick vegetation rose up on all sides and arched overhead in a lacy canopy that filtered the light to a soft shade. It had just rained; the air was hot and steamy. I felt enclosed in a semitropical terrarium, sealed off from a world that suddenly seemed a thousand miles away.

This is quite a story! As much a book about Savannah as about the sensational story of prominent businessman, Jim Williams, being tried four different times for the murder of the volatile, unstable hustler, Danny Hansford, it has been said that this is the best non-fiction book since Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

From the publisher:
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.

The book is filled with varied and colorful Savannahians, from all walks of life, and each person/character has a complete story that becomes part of the fabric of the greater story being told. I don’t think it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but I was caught by the mystery, the people, and the city … and enjoyed it very much.

I chose this book for Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge, and I’m also going to count it for Joy’s Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

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14 thoughts on “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

  1. Kelly

    I used to own the video and remember watching a bit of it but I obviously didn’t watch much because I cannot remember any of it! But it does sound good so I might add the book to my wishlist!

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  2. Nymeth

    You know, somehow I didn’t think I’d be interested in this book, but now that I’ve read your review I’m thinking again. I watched the movie a long time ago, and although I barely remember it I know it didn’t make much of an impression on me. But then, the book is almost always better than the movie, isn’t it?

    Thanks for another great review, Robin.

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  3. Bookfool

    I loved the movie but I still haven’t read the book! Glad to know you enjoyed it. I’d love to visit Savannah, someday, too.

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  4. Robin

    Kelly, my husband and I watched the movie again this weekend after I finished reading the book. We really like Kevin Spacey, and it was great seeing the places and some of the real people in the story, but the book was much better.

    Thanks, Nymeth. The book was a lot better than the movie — the movie was “loosely based” on the book, but it was fun to see the locations and they actually had many of the people in the story portray themselves, which made it fun, too.

    Bookfool, if you really liked the movie, you would like the book because it’s so much more complete and goes into more depth with each person involved.

    Petunia, I thought it was fiction, too. It was actually a 1995 finalist for the “general non-fiction” category for the Pulitzer Prize.

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  5. ____Maggie

    Ah, the book is always better, but I’m a librarian! 🙂

    Do you mind if I add this to the sense of place contest? It is already over, but I love your quote and photos. I think it would add to anyones visit to the south. 🙂

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  6. Robin

    Maggie, that’s so nice. Yes, I’d love to have you add it to your “Sense of Place” post. I was so busy during the contest time that I wasn’t able to participate in it, but I would love to have it included. Thanks!

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  7. Nan

    Oh, did I ever love this book, and the movie, as well, and the soundtrack. :< ) I think I've read the book twice, at least.

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  8. Robin

    Nan, it really captured me so I can see why you’ve read it twice! I enjoyed the music while watching the movie, but haven’t listened to it separately. I’ll have to get a copy and listen because I’m sure I’d enjoy it.

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  9. Robin

    Hi Becky. It was a fascinating book to read! I really want to go to Savannah after reading it … I wasn’t joking when I said that if I could just hop on a plane and go anywhere, I’d head for Savannah. I’m going to have to get serious about taking a trip there.

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  10. Tricia

    Savannah is one of my favorite places on earth. I have this on my bookshelf but haven’t gotten to it yet. I might have to read it for my third book for the challenge. You’ve got me excited to read it!

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