Length: 400 pages
Audiobook Length: 15 hours and 4 minutes
First Published: 1994
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In 1981, a death at the grandest mansion in Savannah provokes the question: Was it murder or self-defense? The shooting sends a tidal wave through Savannah whose effects are still visible a decade later. With a colorful cast of characters, you’ll hardly believe this narrative nonfiction story isn’t a novel.
John Berendt’s bestseller spent 216 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, probably for its almost unbelievably quirky characters: a drag queen, a voodoo priestess, a charming swindler, and a murderous(?) antique dealer. Although the murder gave the story a focus, you read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for its eccentric look at humanity and not for its murder mystery.
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.
Quotes from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
In Savannah the first question people ask you is “What would you like to drink?
Rule number one: Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen. That’s when you find out everything you want to know.
If there’s a single trait common to all Savannahians, it’s their love of money and their unwillingness to spend it.
Savannah was invariably gracious to strangers, but it was immune to their charms. It wanted nothing so much as to be left alone.
Movie Trailer for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
About John Berendt
John Berendt is a writer and the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The City of Falling Angels.