Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

by John Berendt
4.1 396

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

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 non-fiction. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679763314
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/01/1995
Edition description: International [Not available in USA]

About the Author

The son of two writers, John Berendt grew up in Syracuse, New York. He earned a B.A. in English from Harvard University, where he worked on the staff of The Harvard Lampoon. After graduating in 1961, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in publishing. Berendt has written for David Frost and Dick Cavett, was editor of New York magazine from 1977 to 1979, and wrote a monthly column for Esquire from 1982 to 1994.

Berendt first traveled to Savannah in the early 1980s, when he realized that he could fly there for a three-day weekend for the price of “a paillard of veal served on a bed of wilted radicchio” [p. 24] in one of New York’s trendier restaurants. Over the ensuing eight years his visits became more frequent and extended, until he was spending more time in Savannah than in New York.

Part of the appeal, Berendt says, lay in the city’s penchant for morbid gossip: “People in Savannah don’t say, ‘Before leaving the room, Mrs. Jones put on her coat.’ Instead, they say, 'Before leaving the room, Mrs. Jones put on the coat that her third husband gave her before he shot himself in the head.” (Entertainment Weekly, 3/11/94, p. 52)

Since the publication and unprecedented success of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Berendt has become a Savannah celebrity and was even presented with the key to the city. “I took it down to City Hall one night to see if it would work, but it didn't.” (Syracuse Post Standard, 4/5/1994)


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 5, 1939

Place of Birth:

Syracuse, New York


A.B. Harvard College, 1961

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 396 reviews.
slimikin More than 1 year ago
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a splendid piece of nonfiction. Part true crime, part Savannah guidebook, it reaches beyond both of these to become a captivating character study. John Berendt effortlessly captures the voices of both the people he meets and the city of Savannah, itself. And yet, though his impressions and experiences shape the narrative, he remains an understated presence in the book, offering what he sees and hears with minimal commentary, and leaving us, the readers, with the sense that it is we who are in fact meeting these people and this place. As their new acquaintances, moreover, we're free and welcome to come to our own conclusions about the quality of their characters, and so we, too, become drawn into the book's singular series of events. Deftly rendered with elegant and evocative prose, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a funny, insightful, and often touching glimpse into Savannah's charming, mysterious heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! The chareacters and plot are very original and catching. I think that way the book is written draws you in and makes you want to keep reading and the way he describes Savannah makes you want to move there or at lease visit. The characters are all colorful and you love them. This is a good book for someone who likes mystery and comedy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the book every moment seems to lead up to main plot. The book is very organized and easy to read. The characters in the book are very different than normal characters and it is what captures your interest to start with. My favorite character would have to be Chablis, just because of her attitude and personality. In the town of Savannah, it would be very peaceful and I believe that the author portraid the town very well. It's easy to picture in your mind, even if you don't have a creative imagination. The ending was well rounded, but it possibly could have added what every one was doing in the end of the book.
TJ-New-Orleans More than 1 year ago
I became so engrossed with this tale, town, characters and plot and felt as though I was a part of it all. Berendt's rich descriptions of each character and their contrasts and intertwining is brilliant. It's a book you swear you can smell, taste, hear and have to peer out your window once in awhile to make sure you are not living on one of Savannah's beautiful squares.
Midella_Langford More than 1 year ago
I found Midnight in the Garden of God and Evil to be somewhat of a good read. There were parts in the story that were very interesting but mostly it was a treatise of southern life which I already am aware of. This book may be more interesting to people who don't live in small southern cities like Savannah. I am looking forward to seeing how the movie by the same name is compared to the book. If you're looking for a good southern crime drama stick with John Grisham.
NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
John Berendt has put together a series of anecdotes of quirky characters in Savannah, Georgia -- and the city basically becomes a character all on its own. As much as I loved "City of Falling Angels," there is a reason that "Midnight" was on the Best Seller list for almost 4 years -- it's amazing, hilarious, touchy, and quirky! I laughed out loud so many times throughout this, reading the anecdotes of characters that the author puts together over a series of 8 years that he lived between New York City and Savannah, Georgia -- the trial of Jim Williams, fascinating and hidden with secrets, is not the crux of the book, as the movie displayed it. The trial is a key part, however it truly is about 40% of the book, with the remainder about the life and the people of Savannah. And as much as I love Clint Eastwood's movies -- the movie did not do John Berendt's book justice at all. Read the book only -- it is absolutely amazing!
lrg More than 1 year ago
This is a great page-turning book - not necessarily stimulating or thought provoking, but very enthralling and well written. The approach is unique, similar to something out of the "true crime" genre, but more than mere reporting. The author's journalistic attention to detail is essential to the drama, with some added touch relating personal experiences and interactions with the principal characters. Again, the approach was very unique, well-written, and quite entertaining. The City of Savannah can thank this book's success for putting it back onto the tourists' map. The author's follow-up didn't do as well, partly because Savannah is much more accessible to the American audience than an aristocratic city in Europe. Lastly, I saw the movie after reading the book, and I found the movie to be boring compared to the book!! Read the book, skip the movie, and visit Savannah!
patitrisha More than 1 year ago
I remember when this book was published and all the positive publicity. I do not normally read non-fiction. This was beautifully written, a pure pleasure to read. The cast of characters was truly incredible and I would need to remind myself this is real. If you have not read this yet, don't hesitate yo give this book a try.
RSEdwards More than 1 year ago
I concur with another reviewer here that the Abridged version of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" was a disappointment. So much of the story was glossed over with broad summaries of plot events, a goodly portion of the tension and detail that make a story engrossing apparently fell on the cutting room floor. And as previously noted elsewhere, there's an additional disk featuring the author patting himself on the back, a dubious bonus that could have been used instead for the novel. I used this experience to ensure I only purchase unabridged novels in the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by Yvette Brink The novel I chose to review was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt; published by Vintage Books, has 386 pages, and is $14 for paperback. I could not stop reading this non-fiction true crime murder mystery novel because of the way that John Berendt draws you into the lives of these Savannahians. Even casual readers will find themselves consumed by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil because of its great detail and interesting characters. What I found the most interesting about this novel is that it is based on true events and real characters from Savannah, Georgia. The story of how John Berendt became involved in these events seems to me, meant to be. In Chapter 2, Berendt describes how he ended up going to savannah. He writes: I had seen it in a newspaper ad for supersaver airfares from New York to cities all across America. As I recall, the veal-and-radicchio entrée cost as much as a flight from New York to Louisville or any of six equidistant cities¿A week later I passed up the veal and radicchio and flew to New Orleans¿After that, every five or six weeks I took advantage of the newly deregulated airfares and flew out of New York in the company of a small group of friends interested in a change of scene. One of those weekend jaunts took us to Charleston, South Carolina¿On Sunday, my traveling companions went back to New York, but I stayed on in Charleston. I had decided to drive down to Savannah, spend the night and fly back to New York from there. (24-27) Fortunately John stays on in Savannah for more than one night. He actually ends up staying in Savannah off and on for more than eight years following the characters and the specific event that involves one of Savannah¿s most prominent society figures. John Berendt does an excellent job of introducing the characters of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt splits the novel up into two parts. The first part consists of an introduction to the people of Savannah. The second part consists of a highly interesting murder mystery involving one of the main characters. In the first part of the novel, each chapter reads as an individual story. `A Walking Streak of Sex¿, `The Sentimental Gentleman¿ and `The Grand Empress of Savannah¿ are just an example of the interesting titles given to the stories of the unique characters of this novel. `The Grand Empress of Savannah¿ is about Chablis, an African-American drag queen with lots of attitude. In `A Walking Streak of Sex¿ you are introduced to Danny Hansford, a twenty-two year old who is a pothead who likes to live life a little dangerously by driving his Camaro recklessly. The second part of Midnight revolves around the murder mystery that takes place between two characters while John Berendt is visiting Savannah. Berendt takes you along for the ride as you try to figure out if the death of one of the characters is a result of murder or self-defense. You sit in on the court case and witness the comically complex and political trial of the accused murderer. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is definitely worth your time. It is great entertainment and hard to put down. I recommend it all readers because it is so easy flowing and fast paced. I had my friend, who is not a big fan of reading anything but magazines, read it and he absolutely loved it. I could not find any other books written by John Berendt but I found out that he mainly does editing for New York magazine and is a columnist for Esquire. John Berendt does such a wonderful job portraying the events of this story that it would be a shame if he weren¿t in the works of another novel. With characters as interesting as those in Midnight, I don¿t see how you could not enjoy reading this novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil provided an insight to Savannah Georgia that made you want to go and visit, to see if you might meet some of the people in the book and also to see if Savannah was really as beautiful and full of snobby people as the author John Berendt portrayed. Mr. Berendt also does a good job of making his characters come to life. They aren't just words on a page; they are actual people interacting in the story. There are parts when you think that the characters will jump off the page and invite you to a party or convict you of being an accomplice to murder. The beginning of the book provides a lot of background information to the people of Savannah and the town in general. You also find out a lot about the different characters such as where they live, what they do for a living, and the little mysteries that surround each character. In the second part of the book you learn that the main character, Jim Williams, has murdered his helper Danny Hansford. The rest of the book is spent going through the four trails that Jim has before he finally has his name cleared. The last part of the book also shows how the town reacts to Jim and each other after they found out what has happened. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a good book if you like a lot if background information and insight into a place. It is easy reading and intriguing; it makes you think about the friends and neighbors that you have and the life they might lead behind your back.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good southern story. Read it for free from your local library ;)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was an excellent read. The background on the characters was quite entertaining. The whole trial process seemed to wrap up pretty quickly, but I think that kept the book from dragging too much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a very enjoyable book for me to read. I have visited Savannah and I think that made it even more interesting. I was not very interested in reading it because I don't like to read storylines that involve murder. But this book is so different. It told about not only the court case but about the city and it's unique and sometimes quirkey townpeople. I saw the movie and it was okay. But it does not compare to the book. Once I started this book I found it hard to put down. I cannot think of anyother book I have read that compares to this one. I feel like this book will appeal to a vary wide group of readers.
Anonymous 16 days ago
MontzieW More than 1 year ago
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt is a weird story about even weirder people! I would be gone from that town soooo fast. What creepy people! With the strange people you knew the murder mystery would be just as creepy, but not good. Easy to figure out that Jim and Danny were lovers right away. Why hide it in this town? You have a man that only puts make up on one eye, a man who walks an invisible dog, a man that hordes enough poison so he can at sometime kill everyone, and a transvestite dating a man. These are the sane people! I wasn't impressed with the writing, the plot, or the mystery. His weird characters were weird but that was it. Not my kind of book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I originally read this book as a young teenager, and the perspective stayed with me. While I doubt it's entirely non-fiction (human non-fiction pieces tend to stretch), it's an exciting look into new people, new places, and new things. I have yet to watch the fim, but others keep telling me not to...may take their advice.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is easily one of the best books I've ever read. If you like interesting characters, this book is full of them. It's hard to believe this is a true story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book.