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: