Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil …
a very interesting and diverting read.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
John Berendt, Harvard journalism graduate, associate editor of Esquire and regular monthly contributor to New York magazine has written a creative Gothic novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Working as a professional journalist in New York city, Berendt decided to move elsewhere and chose Savannah, Georgia. Why? I don’t know but he is likely very pleased he did because living there inspired his bestselling opus, “Midnight….”
Savannah was a learning lab for Berendt, a keen observer of life, society and culture and it is where he learned about James Williams, a man acquitted of murder after four trials for the same crime. The William’s story may have been the foundation of a good tale, but the city of Savannah was equally up to the starring role in the novel as the setting, the backdrop and the stage for the cast of characters who will mystify, intrigue and pique a reader’s curiousity.
A murder mystery where scenes are exotic, dark and mysterious, dialogues are melodramatic and somewhat gloomy, and the atmosphere is ominous, suspenseful and dooming, ‘Midnight’ fits the definition of Gothic style to a T.
Set in the 1980’s, the tapestry of this murder story weaves itself around James Williams, an antiques collector and dealer who established himself among as one of the elite of Savannah society by restoring old city homes to their past historical glory and by hosting incredible dinner parties to which every Savannah social elitist sought invitation.
The cast of characters
The tapestry weaves threads of mesmerizing characters deliciously described with poetic prose and captivating colour. Lady Chablis, the transvestite anatomically male but living more successfully as a female; Joe Odom, the who played piano for the tourist tourers who visited every home he illegally lived in; Lee Adler, Washington honoured for contributions to the historical restoration of Savannah, but who the city fathers felt was a pompous arrogant self-centered fake; the attorneys, Bobby Lee Cook, loser, Sonny Seiler, winner and Spencer Lawton, failed district attorney doomed to fail once again; Danny Hansford, the victim, the sexual hustler and street thug lover of James Williams; and finally, Minerva, the voodoo practitioner who may have successfully cast spells which ultimately saved Williams from conviction at the fourth trial.
Why I liked the book
This is a polished story that telescopes a kaleidoscope of Savannah, Georgia. It’s a city like no other in the USA and because of its uniqueness, it stands aloof from all other American cities. Proud, independent, self-reliant and very snobbish, it competes with no other city; it seeks no commercial glorification, economic revenues. It is a city which believes in itself totally and stands apart in this self-belief with citizens who reinforce and support this attitude of arrogance and isolationism. It is a city that has historical, social and cultural traditions of which it is very proud and which it retains with a tenacious and steadfast grip. Its antebellum homes stand as sentries honour guards to earlier times, times of historical glory and old honours. The city continues to wear the crown and walk the spirit and independence of the era of the American confederacy. And Williams exemplifies this municipal grandeur by his lifestyle, his haughty socializing above and among the socially elite of Savannah.
Savannah draws the reader into the city center, into the spirit of Savannah. The descriptions are polished and magnetic. The characters are more than just believable. They are mesmerizing and intriguing. And the writing style polishes the real treasures that already exist in the city.
What’s not to like
Some readers may quibble with the ‘faction’ writing of the book, the meandering between fact and fiction as the story goes.
Others may be confused by the profusion of characters entering and exiting the story’s stage.
These are very minor quibbles given the excellence of the book overall.
The final word
This is an excellent book, written well, with a well developed and terrific plot. The story keeps the reader curious and eager to see what happens next. And, unless one actually knows the factual story, the final outcome is withheld from the reader until the very last moment.
An excellent read…highly recommended.