Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by Berendt Berendt: Book CoverFinished 7-7-09, rating 4.5/5, true crime -ish, pub. 1994

“Some years ago she ordered a pair of iron gates for her house,  They were designed and built especially for her.  But when they were delivered she pitched a fit, said they were horrible, said they were filth. ‘Take them away,’ she said, ‘I never want to see them again!’  Then she tore up the bill, which was for $1,400 – a fair amount of money in those days.”

“The foundry took the gates back, but they didn’t know what to do with them.  After all, there wasn’t much demand for a pair of ornamental gates exactly that size.  The only thing they could do was to sell the iron for its scrap value.  So they cut the price from $1,400 to $190.  Naturally, the following day the woman sent a man over to the foundry with $190, and today those gates are hanging on her gateposts where they were originally designed to go.  That’s pure Savannah.  And that’s what I mean by cheap.  You mustn’t be taken in by the moonlight and magnolias.  There’s more to Savannah than that.  Things can get very murky.”

Chapter 1

 This is non-fiction book that reads like a novel.  New York reporter, Berendt is charmed by his first trip to Savannah, Georgia in the early 1980’s, and decides to rent a house there and split his time between there and New York.  What he finds is a town full of old Southern charm, ideas, and eccentric characters.

There are the local society blue bloods and successful blacks who are always polite, but rarely mix.  Luther Driggers is a misfit with a bottle of enough poison to kill all of Savannah and demons enough to make the town nervous.  Lady Chablis, a beautiful drag queen, likes to take her drama around town.  Jim Williams is an arrogant self-made millionaire who is accepted mainly because he throws the party of the year.  The piano playing, check bouncing, forgering lawyer Joe Odom befriends the reporter and Minerva, the voodoo witch, takes the reporter to the graveyard at midnight to cast her many spells.

Savannah is more than the citizens that inhabit it – the beauty and richness of the city itself is on display.  I am already trying to figure out when my husband and I can plan a trip there!  It is part travel guide and part true crime story.  When one of the main characters murders a lover in self-defense the town becomes consumed with the trial.  There was never a question of whether he did it, but of his intent.  Old rivalries heat up and a simple self-defense case turns into a circus, more than once.

I loved this book. It captures the spirit of this small southern town.  I loved the meandering stories of the first third of the book as we got to know the town and its people.  The murder was a nice change of pace and it became a book with purpose. 

I loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough for those of you who didn’t read it when it came out.  I saw the movie when it came out years ago and don’t remember much about it but that I was a little bored.  Don’t let the movie scare you off.  The book, as usual, is so much better.