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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  155,520 Ratings  ·  5,800 Reviews
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 nov ...more
Paperback, 386 pages
Published June 28th 1999 by Vintage (first published January 13th 1994)
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Andrea It's a little odd that you are more concerned about your 16-year-old reading about drag queens than about murder.

Louise Hathaway Yes--my husband and I went on the "Midnight in the Garden" tour and I highly recommend it. We even went to see the Lady Chablis at Club One when we…moreYes--my husband and I went on the "Midnight in the Garden" tour and I highly recommend it. We even went to see the Lady Chablis at Club One when we were in Savannah.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Note, February 2014: I was just rereading this review, and FUNNY STORY, I moved to a small town. Not so much a big city person as I had originally thought...

Original review, circa 2007: I love this book to the point where I don't even really know what to say about it, because nothing I can say about it will be good enough to explain just how incredible this book really is.

After reading this book, I had to restrain myself from booking a flight to Savannah. It makes you want to be there, it makes
mark monday
Feb 29, 2012 mark monday rated it it was ok
this book has a lot of fans. that makes some sense. magazines are certainly very popular, and this is magazine writing at its most polished. Berendt knows how to create an atmosphere. he knows how to describe things in a style that is careful, subtle, and enfused with a deadpan but rather mischievious irony. he can certainly describe the way a rich man's house looks - so well that you could then describe it to someone else as if you've been there. characters are sketched with an expert's hand - ...more
Richard Derus
Sep 18, 2013 Richard Derus rated it liked it
BkC7)Delicious, shimmering prose. Wonderful story. Savannah really should give Mr. Berendt a pension.

Well now, I have to dim my searchlight to a streetlight. Still think it's good but now, well, now I can't see past the one-hit-wonderness to the glories I once took for granted.

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 rev
Jul 08, 2008 Lena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
There was a lot of hype around this book a few years back, but in this case I think it is actually deserved. For one, Berendt is a skilled writer who understands how to tease a compelling story out of the material he’s working with. And, oh, what material! The true-crime mystery at the center of the book—whether the social-climbing, closeted gay antiques dealer shot his lover in cold blood or self-defense—is interesting enough, but Berendt decorates that story with outrageous character portraits ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Adam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of the film
This was a decent book. There was a lot of mood, of which I'm a big fan. The characters all had the potential to be very interesting, but unfortuately, they weren't developed. That's not to say you don't spend a lot of time with them, or find out anything about them, it's just that you don't really give a damn.

The book is written by a magazine journalist who ends up living on and off in Savanah, GA for eight years to investigate and chronicle a murder and it's trials. This book is more or less
One of the best 'true crime' book I have ever read. Every inch of the story is fascinating. It reads like a novel. I actually had to keep reminding myself that it was, in fact, a true crime book. From the very first chapter I felt drawn in. I immediately wanted to go to Savannah and see it for myself.

So often in true crime books the characters are a little flat. Berendt was really able to make them come to life. His writing made the whole city come to life. His ability to infiltrate the seemly
Sep 01, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it
Recommended to Amanda by: Chris Brewer
Murder, gullah, drag queens (these are a few of my favorite things . . .) There's probably not much I can say about this book that hasn't already been said, but that won't stop me. I saw the movie when it first came out and loved it, but just never got around to reading the book. I thought that the entire book would be about the murder trial of Jim Williams, the prominent Savannah antiques dealer accused of murdering Danny Hansford (with whom it was rumored he was having a sexual relationship). ...more
Tea Jovanović
May 01, 2013 Tea Jovanović rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translated-it
Ova knjiga je jedan od meni najdražih prevoda, i žao mi je što film nije pomogao knjizi... Naime, knjiga obiluje živopisnim likovima, a Klint Istvud je u svom filmu samo načeo te likove, a nijednog nije u potpunosti prikazao... Ono što je posebno interesantno u vezi s ovom knjigom jeste to da je ona potpuno promenila život učmale Savane u Džordžiji... Gradić koji ne voli promene, koji ne voli savremene tekovine, odjednom se našao pod najezdom turista koji su se tu sjatili posle čitanja ove knjig ...more
Jess ❈Harbinger of Blood-Soaked Rainbows❈
3.5 stars rounded up to 4

B is for Berendt

Read a book with antonyms in the title

So I just realized that I totally forgot to review this one.....idiot moment #85749

For me, Savannah's resistance to change was its saving grace. The city looked inward, sealed of from the noises and distractions of the world at large. It grew inward, too, and in such a way that its people flourished like hothouse plants tended by an indulgent gardner. The ordinary became extraordinary. Eccentrics thrived. Every nuanc
Oct 26, 2015 Phrynne rated it it was ok
I found this one a struggle. Several times I stopped and looked the title up again on Goodreads to make sure it really is non fiction. Surely all those weird characters could not really have existed in one place. Surely there must have been a huge amount of artistic licence going on. The court cases themselves rang true but ended up not being a major part of the book. Two stars because the author writes well. My struggle to read it was based purely on disbelief and not at all on the quality of t ...more
Sep 01, 2011 Jake rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, sociology, travel
"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" is ostensibly about the macabre truths that lie behind Savannah's gentile facade. As you might expect, these are of a distinctly Gothic nature. Imagine a travel guide written by Tennessee Williams. We are invited to marvel at some familiar grotesques: the homosexual in a smoking jacket, the socialite drunk at noon, the young hustler with a Red Camaro, the outrageous trannie, the witch doctor. All of this is presented with a light touch, even as the parad ...more
Aug 25, 2015 Maxwell rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-own-it, 2015, audiobook
The perfect mix of character study and courtroom drama, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil paints a fascinating picture of Savannah, Georgia. It's a moody, atmospheric novel that draws you in with its exquisite descriptions and eccentric cast. There are aristocratic snobs and drag queens, punk rock teens and possibly murderous millionaires. It all sounds a bit too good to be true--based on a series of real events from the 1980's-- and maybe it is. But nonetheless, it's wildly entertaining a ...more
Mar 26, 2012 Madeline rated it really liked it
"An idea was beginning to take shape in my mind, a variation of my city-hopping weekends. I would make Savannah my second home. I would spend perhaps a month at a time in Savannah, long enough to become more than a tourist if not quite a full-fledged resident. I would inquire, observe, and poke around wherever my curiosity led me or wherever I was invited. I would presume nothing. I would take notes.
Over a period of eight years I did just that, except that my stays in Savannah became longer and
Stacia (the 2010 club)
It's the weekend and I'm too lazy to give a proper review.

In a nutshell : I loved the gorgeous (really, it was) writing and detailed descriptions of Savannah and its people.

It took too long for much of anything to happen though.

I might add more to this review later...and I might not.
Nov 02, 2007 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I enjoyed it, I think this book could have been much better. The first half is largely a series of character studies, and the second half is essentially a true-life crime novel. Unfortunately I grew dangerously bored with the first half, and as the mystery unfolds, I grew annoyed that many of the characters introduced in the first half really have little play or impact on the rest of the book. The murder mystery itself is an interesting story but is very anticlimactic. While the book is ...more
Deborah Edwards
Sep 04, 2008 Deborah Edwards rated it really liked it
If you can read this book and not want to immediately hop a plane to Savannah, Georgia, then I do not know what to say to you. I read this book several years ago (and even remember reading a huge chunk of it in the laundromat and another huge chunk of it outside the same laundromat, which had closed up but I could not stop reading), because it was pretty much surgically attached to my hand the entire time. Berendt brought these eccentrics to life in a way that made the entire culture mesmerizing ...more
Dec 30, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Chrissie
Recommended to Laura by: Dawn
Just arrived from Finland through BM.

What a pity this book ended. I must find a way to visit this beautiful city of Savannah.

The story is about the trial of Jim Williams, a Savannah's socialite and an international antiques dealer, crazy by the famous Faberge eggs, which was accused of the murder of Danny Handsford.

After had discovered that a super-saver fare to Savannah cost the same as an entree in a Manhattan restaurant, the author spent eight years fitting between these two cities. In this
Jun 11, 2008 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
I just couldn't put this down. Berendt did a magnificent job in bringing these real life people to the page in a memorable and entertaining way.
One of my favorite scenes includes the cross dresser who works in the hardware store. His employer disapproves of his wearing "makeup" while working, so he only makes up one half of his face, and then spends his working days at the store turning his head, so customers and his employer won't see the "makeup". To think this is a true story. I can't wait
Lucinda Reed
Sep 18, 2007 Lucinda Reed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I chose this book for the title and the fact that I love Savannah. As a former Georgia peach, I think the story works because it is told from the view of an outsider, and because the cast of characters is quite an interesting ensemble.While each new character introduced is appealing enough to catch your eye, he doesn't go into too much detail to detract from the main story or main characters.

The descriptions of the place and the people and even the food are detailed enough to give the reader a
Thomas Strömquist
John Berendt's well-known (non-)fiction work is the story of a murder. But it really isn't, it is actually more of a masterfully told story about a number of people in Savannah and the place itself. I just love this author's narrative and the first time I read the book I did it in a couple of long sittings, due to the fact that I couldn't bring myself to put it down. If you for some reason would not want to invest the time in this book, watch the great (and sadly underrated) movie! Then read the ...more
Jun 30, 2015 Wendy rated it really liked it
Shelves: jun-15
I really enjoyed this!
Fascinating. Characters include: lawyer-gone-rogue, business man turned murderer, voodoo priestess, drag queen. Plot includes: a famous murder, debutante ball, high tea with ladies of high society, afternoon-Gatsby-like-parties, etc.

You would think this was fiction. That, it is not. This is narrative nonfiction.

Perhaps John Berendt's previous role as editor of New York Magazine made it easier to get full confessions from people who committed crimes, made lawyers want to discuss their legal stra
Jul 23, 2015 Camie rated it liked it
I read this years ago but I'm going to rate it now since it is likely I won't reread it( and it just popped up on my GR page). I have vacationed in Savannah and its a lovely place. I live in a historic home so I enjoyed all the home tours and history. I had the chance to see the statue on the book cover. The book had just been released so it was all the rage there of course. Another one of the books where I enjoyed being swept up in the swirl of hype more than the actual book. 3 stars
Jessica~loves to hate a cliffy~
Oct 13, 2015 Jessica~loves to hate a cliffy~ rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-it
Having been in Savannah for the Sassy event a week ago, of course we have to go to the Mercer House and do all things scary while we were there. And that meant reading this gem.

Lady Chablis, The Doll, The Grand Empress is one of the greatest characters ever written (probably because she was a real person). She had me LOL'ing, for real she's amazing.

The great parties the Joe had..Oh to be there during that time would have been a dream!

Minerva and all her voodoo preistness

Great story! And of cou
Apr 09, 2016 Rand added it
Attempting to review this book in an objective way is nearly as maddening as the long running murder trial which forms the crux of this tale.

After knowing of this book for more than half of my life, and consciously avoiding reading it for at least one third of said lifespan, I can honestly say that I am glad that I have begun to read it and decided to finish it in a befittingly leisurely pace. I can understand that some people find this sort of book to be annoying or trite (Is it fact or fiction
Nov 10, 2015 Kasia rated it it was amazing
I want to see Savannah badly
Tabby Kat
May 20, 2008 Tabby Kat rated it it was amazing
Shelves: misc-books
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 ...more
Sep 06, 2007 Shannon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: crime, timeless
This is one of my favorite books and inspired my first visit to Savannah. The characters are fantasy come to life and the lush descriptions of the city make you want to experience all this spooky historic city has to offer. The book is losely based on the murder of Danny Hansford by the eccentric self made art dealer Jim Williams. But it is the supporting characters such as The Lady Chablis that make this story what it is. The famous cover of the bird-girl statue taken in Bonaventure Cemetery is ...more
Apr 14, 2016 Abby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Definitely the best true crime novel I've ever read. Midnight in the Garden reads like fiction, which makes it a fantastic book. There's a perfect blend of the murder investigation with the daily lives of the Savannahians. These people are such a hoot! Finally another 5 star book for me this year.
Ein wunderbares Sittenbild der Ober- und Mittelschicht von Savannah. Mammamia John Berendt kann erzählen, detailreich und bildhaft, aber nicht übertrieben skizziert er punktgenau das verschlafene Städtchen. Die unzähligen Charaktäre der Stadt sind treffend mit spitzer Feder und tiefgründig beschrieben, die Häuser, das Interieur und die schöne Stadt sieht der Leser buchstäblich vor seinen Augen.

"...und Augen die so schwarz waren, dass sie wie die getönten Scheiben einer eleganten Limousine wirkte
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The son of two writers, John Berendt grew up in Syracuse, New York. He earned a B.A. in English from Harvard University, where he worked on the staff of The Harvard Lampoon. After graduating in 1961, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in publishing. He was editor of New York magazine from 1977 to 1979, and wrote a monthly column for Esquire from 1982 to 1994.

Berendt first traveled to Sav
More about John Berendt...

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“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.” 81 likes
“If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, "What's your business?" In Macon they ask, "Where do you go to church?" In Augusta they ask your grandmother's maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is "What would you like to drink?” 37 likes
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