Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Author: John Berendt
Narrator: Jeff Woodman
Published: January 13, 1994
Audiobook: 15 Hours 4 minutes
Reviewed By: Jessica
Dates Listened To: October 5-13, 2023
Jessica’s Rating: 4 stars
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 city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt’s narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt interweaves a first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.
The story is 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 uproarious 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.
This book is a case of where truth is stranger than fiction and it happens in the Southern town of Savannah, Georgia! We have an intriguing and colorful cast of characters in 1981 Savannah. It has also become a movie that I saw at least 15 years ago, but when I saw it I don’t think I realized it was a true story!
This is a true crime book that reads like fiction! In actuality the author’s ‘character’ in the book is the only fictional character because in reality he arrived in Savannah during Jim William’s first trial. Yes, I said first trial because he was tried more than once. Berendt really pulls you into this true story with some intimate details that might be TMI for some readers.
Almost any kind of ‘character’ you can think of is in this book: We have a drag queen, a con artist, black debutants, and a voodoo priestess among many more! The narrator Jeff Woodman did a fantastic job portraying some of these real people’s voices. My favorite among this colorful cast was The Lady Chablis. She even wrote a short biography around 200 pages that I plan on borrowing from my library! Kevin Spacey portrayed Jim Williams and they did a fantastic job of making him look like Jim Williams from a picture I found online, even though his acting was apparently not up to Berendt’s standards . I loved that The Lady Chablis played herself!
This one was a book club pick, and I enjoyed the book, it’s such an intriguing real-life tale! I even rewatched the movie after finishing it. It’s a longer one at 2.5 hours and does a good job condensing the story but still getting the whole story. After finishing the book, it has me wanting to go back to Savannah and even tour Mercer house which you can still do today.
I enjoyed this true crime book!
Here is the trailer to the movie:
Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases
Author: Paul Holes
To Be Published: April 26, 2022
Reviewed By: Jessica
Dates Read: February 1-12, 2022
Jessica’s Rating: 5 stars
From the detective who found The Golden State Killer, a memoir of investigating America’s toughest cold cases and the rewards–and toll–of a life solving crime.
I order another bourbon, neat. This is the drink that will flip the switch. I don’t even know how I got here, to this place, to this point. Something is happening to me lately. I’m drinking too much. My sheets are soaking wet when I wake up from nightmares of decaying corpses. I order another drink and swig it, trying to forget about the latest case I can’t shake.
Crime-solving for me is more complex than the challenge of the hunt, or the process of piecing together a scientific puzzle. The thought of good people suffering drives me, for better or worse, to the point of obsession.
People always ask how I am able to detach from the horrors of my work. Part of it is an innate capacity to compartmentalize; the rest is experience and exposure, and I’ve had plenty of both. But I had always taken pride in the fact that I can keep my feelings locked up to get the job done. It’s only been recently that it feels like all that suppressed darkness is beginning to seep out.
When I look back at my long career, there is a lot I am proud of. I have caught some of the most notorious killers of the twenty-first century and brought justice and closure for their victims and families. I want to tell you about a lifetime solving these cold cases, from Laci Peterson to Jaycee Dugard to the Pittsburg homicides to, yes, my twenty-year-long hunt for the Golden State Killer.
But a deeper question eats at me as I ask myself, at what cost? I have sacrificed relationships, joy—even fatherhood—because the pursuit of evil always came first. Did I make the right choice? It’s something I grapple with every day. Yet as I stand in the spot where a young girl took her last breath, as I look into the eyes of her family, I know that, for me, there has never been a choice. “I don’t know if I can solve your case,” I whisper. “But I promise I will do my best.”
It is a promise I know I can keep.
Unmasked is Paul Holes memoir of his working cold cases in California. He worked some well-known cases, along with the not so well-known cases. He intensely works these cases to the detriment of his family life which we also see.
Holes tells us about his life in such a way that you are truly pulled in and go on these cases with him over the course of his entire career. He paces his story well and at times I had to remind myself that this isn’t a novel, but real life! This was his life in his search for the truly evil people that are out there.
This is also a true crime book, so there are descriptions of crime scenes and bodies given. There were no photos in the arc I was given as there usually are in true crime books. His determination for finding the criminal that would eventually be called The Golden State Killer lasted beyond his entire career. Though he can detach himself to work horrible crimes, he also lost so much in his life.
This memoir is definitely one for true crime fans who will have a hard time putting down as Holes pulls you into his story and brings you along for his life journey.
Unmasked is highly recommended and many thanks to Celadon Press for sending me an arc copy to read and review.[Top]
Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside his Cult, and the Darkness that Ended the Sixties
Author: Dianne Lake
Published: October 14, 2017
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
In this poignant and disturbing memoir of lost innocence, coercion, survival, and healing, Dianne Lake chronicles her years with Charles Manson, revealing for the first time how she became the youngest member of his Family and offering new insights into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminals and life as one of his “girls”
At age fourteen Dianne Lake—with little more than a note in her pocket from her hippie parents granting her permission to leave them—became one of “Charlie’s girls,” a devoted acolyte of cult leader Charles Manson. Over the course of two years, the impressionable teenager endured manipulation, psychological control, and physical abuse as the harsh realities and looming darkness of Charles Manson’s true nature revealed itself. From Spahn ranch and the group acid trips, to the Beatles’ White Album and Manson’s dangerous messiah-complex, Dianne tells the riveting story of the group’s descent into madness as she lived it.
Though she never participated in any of the group’s gruesome crimes and was purposely insulated from them, Dianne was arrested with the rest of the Manson Family, and eventually learned enough to join the prosecution’s case against them. With the help of good Samaritans, including the cop who first arrested her and later adopted her, the courageous young woman eventually found redemption and grew up to lead an ordinary life.
While much has been written about Charles Manson, this riveting account from an actual Family member is a chilling portrait that recreates in vivid detail one of the most horrifying and fascinating chapters in modern American history.
I think this might be the end of my true crime obsession for a little while. People really are horrible and stupid. Ok, let me go back to the beginning. I decided to listen to this audiobook narrated by Dianne Lake herself. I have read Helter Skelter several times and I wanted to learn more about the family itself and the people in it. This book gave great info in a far more personal way. It’s easy to look in from the outside and criticize and judge, but when you get a glimpse of the realities, that definitely changes.
It’s also an interesting view into hippy culture. The 60s were a very different time and the things that people got away with then would seriously ruin their lives if they tried it today. Who lets their 14 year old daughter just up and go to a completely different city with someone she just met?? I mean Lake’s parents literally pushed her at Charlie Manson even though they knew something was off about him. I put my head down on the steering wheel and just tried to breathe out my frustration. I also learned a lot more about Charlie and his manipulative ways. Of course those girls followed him and loved him unconditionally. He gave them what no one else in the world did, love and acceptance. And he played them like a Hawaiian on a ukulele! I could go on and on about this book, but I’ll just encourage everyone to read it! Very informative and disturbing![Top]