Summary and book reviews of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

A Savannah Story

By John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
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  • Hardcover: Jan 1994,
    386 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 1999,
    255 pages.

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Book Summary

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 is a sublime and seductive reading experience. Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this enormously engaging portrait of a most beguiling Southern city has become a modern classic.

He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning sliver 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. We were sitting in the living room of his Victorian house. It was a mansion, really, with fifteen-foot ceilings and large, well-proportioned rooms. A graceful spiral stairway rose from the center hall toward a domed skylight. There was a ballroom on the second floor. It was Mercer House, one of the last of Savannah's great houses still in private hands. Together with the walled garden and the carriage house in back, it occupied an entire city block. If Mercer House was not quite the biggest private house in Savannah, it was certainly the most grandly furnished. Architectural Digest had devoted six pages to it. A book on the interiors of the world's great houses featured it alongside Sagamore Hill, Biltmore, and Chartwell. Mercer House ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We hope that they will provide you with new ways of looking at--and talking about--a book that Edmund White has called "the best nonfiction novel since In Cold Blood." Like Truman Capote's masterpiece, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is the true story of a murder. It is also the portrait of a Southern city in all its charm and eccentricity and a comedy of manners that has pointed things to say about sex and gender, truth and rumor, and superstition and belief.

The victim is Danny Hansford, a small-time hustler who, early on a Saturday morning in May 1981, was ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Newsweek - Malcolm Jones

Savannahians still rehash this decade-old case, and small wonder. No Gothic novelist could concoct a riper tale. . . . With all this, Berendt has fashioned a Baedeker to Savannah that, while it flirts with condescension, is always contagiously affectionate. Few cities have been introduced more seductively.

New Statesman - Boyd Tonkin

This is very much a Southern story. Berendt underlines the sultriness, snobbery and sensuality of the town where Flannery O'Connor grew up. What's most interesting, however, is the way that the greatest of all Southern quarrels threatens to break out from the edges of the text. For Midnight is finally about race; perhaps more so than Berendt intended.

Glenna Whitley - The New York Times

Mr. Berendt's writing is elegant and wickedly funny, and his eye for telling details is superb....Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil might be the first true-crime book that makes the reader want to call a travel agent and book a bed and breakfast for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime.

New Statesman - Boyd Tonkin

This is very much a Southern story. Berendt underlines the sultriness, snobbery and sensuality of the town where Flannery O'Connor grew up. What's most interesting, however, is the way that the greatest of all Southern quarrels threatens to break out from the edges of the text. For Midnight is finally about race; perhaps more so than Berendt intended.

The New York Times - Glenna Whitley

Mr. Berendt's writing is elegant and wickedly funny, and his eye for telling details is superb....Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil might be the first true-crime book that makes the reader want to call a travel agent and book a bed and breakfast for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime.

Reader Reviews
College Student

GREAT BOOK ABOUT SOUTHERNERS
I had to read this book for one of My college classes. I LOVED IT. This is how southern people are, We all gossip and we do elaborate (a little) stories. However, we are tactfully truthful. We would not say anything behind people backs that we ...   Read More

LisaO.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Savannah/Tybee Island having been my families favorite summer getaway for years it was a joy to read such an enthralling story about a place that is so dear to me. The discriptions of the town that Mr. Berendt so perfectly dipictes, conjurs up the ...   Read More

chris

I think the plot is strangley confusing

why does williams 'disappear' for 10 chapters, did he really murder?

There is a lot of psycho-sexual confusion, williams is obviously gay, danny is his boy. Chablis ? male or female ? What on earth is going ...   Read More

Jan Bailey

Before two weeks ago i had never read the book or seen the movie. A friend suggested since i was going to visit Savannah that i should read it. I went to the library and got the book on CD. We were blown away.... it was awesome. I love the way the ...   Read More

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