Book #10

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

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.

I can hardly be the first to say this, but the true wonder of this book lies in the characters. Diverse, hilarious, combative, proud, each of them are portrayed in a wonderful and compelling manner; they drive the plot along with their eccentricities and scheming, and without them the story would quite simply not be the gem that it is.

And if we could imagine Savannah itself as a character, Berendt would have deep praise here for fleshing her out. His depictions of the climate, the buildings, the nature, the sounds, smells, and southerness, are utterly delectable. It made me want to catch a plane - and I would if tickets were as cheap as they were when Berendt first jaunted down there.

It’s difficult to remember this is a work of non-fiction. I was less interested in the true crime narrative than I was the engaging characters, the graveyard dirt, the voodoo, and the scams. Even the true 80s/90s feel of the setting was a draw. You will be hard pushed to convince me a few liberties weren’t taken with the truth, but Berendt’s skill renders this entirely meaningless.

A perfect blend; never have I read a non-fiction novel so steeped in drama. A flaunting of Southern gothic peppered with courtroom mysteries and a gorgeous web of characters. An unexpected gem.