Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

by John Berendt

Fourth Tuesday Book Club

The main character of this true crime bestseller was the city of Savannah, Georgia, and the people that occupied John Berendt’s tale.  For those of us that have visited this unique community, the book made us feel that we were again walking the streets, having breakfast at Clary’s drugstore, looking up at the old mansions which Robert E. Lee and song-writer Johnny Mercer’s families had lived in, and sitting on a bench in one of the many small parks that dot the wonderful historical experience.  Movie and televisions shows regularly use this city because of its Civil War era look and feel.

In the Mercer home, owned now by Jim Williams, a wealthy art dealer, a party is breaking out.  Only the best people will be there.  The best cook in the city, perhaps in the entire South, will be providing elegant food for the party.  Don’t get the wrong impression of Williams, though.  He was part of the “new” rich and had not forgotten his past.  We find, as the book progresses, that he has one foot in the hidden, seamier side of the town.

The characters are delicious.  The entire first part of the book describes the city and its people.  The author colors the city with individuals like Minerva, an expert in the voodoo arts, or Chablis, a transvestite entertainer.  He introduces us to Luther, an unusual, shy genius who invented a type of pesticide, leading to the flea collar and the no pest strip.  As with many inventors, he made no money from his ideas.  Luther was known for his strange behavior.  He would super-glue flies to strings and “walk” them down the streets of Savannah.  Another character would walk a dog daily as required in a wealthy resident’s will.  He received his pay every day, and continued his job even after the dog had died.

The second portion of the book deals with one of the state’s most infamous crimes and the trials that ensued.  The most important characters in this murderous event are Danny Hansford and Jim Williams.  Hansford was always getting into trouble.  He loved his black Camaro and would do anything for money.  Williams rises from poverty and then uses his money to renovate the historic section of Savannah.  He lived in two worlds and is eventually exposed.  The community’s split loyalty between the accused murderer’s secret life and the old southern ways dominates the story.

It is a tale of deviant sex, class and racial separation, and eventually death.  The characters and even the city disguised themselves by hiding their true identities.  The subject matter and the characters make this an adult book.  This true-crime story is described as a “hugely entertaining and deliciously perverse travelogue.” We agree and recommend it.

Key Ideas from different club members:

Not the page turner that I expected; Too long- first half of the book didn’t deal with the murder- the second half was great; OK, but not wonderful; Very fascinating characters; Great portrayal of the South; Loved this glimpse of Savannah and its people; Learned about southern culture and snobbery; I felt like I was in the city of Savannah; Fabulous true murder mystery.

The Club Members rating of this book:

Linda Bowman, Mona Herrell, Pat Kuna, Juanita Sanner, Sharon Shaffer, Bill Simmons, Lynn Simmons, Helen Skalski, and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:  3.94 of 5

Rating Range: 2.5 to 5

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