From the very opening sentence, it’s easy to see why the Folio Society has chosen John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for one of its stunning editions.
Everything about this book is seductively and intellectually stylish and designed to bring to life more than just the tale of a real life murder in Savannah, but to showcase the diverse range of characters this majestic city has to offer.
From liars to thieves to everything in between, Berendt brings to these characters to joyful life in all their glory, showing that there is more to Savannah than meets the eye.
The cast of characters is incredibly eclectic and some of the tales are so tall they’re almost unbelievable. From petty grievances in the sitting rooms of the middle classes through to voodoo rituals held in graveyards and dalliances with unsuitable men, there are so many mad tales in this book.
Its main plot surrounds the murder of a homosexual handyman and kept man, who was killed in the home of his employer Jim Williams, who claimed self-defence. However, Williams’ story doesn’t entirely stack up against the evidence, and local opinion was divided. An unpopular man among some of the region’s influential elite, Williams fell foul of their wrath and the case ended up going to trial.
The first trial was overturned when the DA is found to have falsified evidence, and as such Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil follows both trials and their aftermaths. Berendt integrated himself fully into Savannah society, both its high society and lower class neighbourhoods, allowing him a broad perspective on the region’s opinions on this divisive trial, in which neither the killer nor the victim was universally liked.
Whilst the murder, its impact on the community and the trials are a key aspect of the book’s plot, they are not its sole focus. After all, the killing doesn’t even occur until more than halfway through. Predominantly, this is a love-letter to Savannah, and a way to show that cities are more than just the buildings and places they feature, but the people who populate them and the beliefs they hold.
Trying to make his view of the city as diverse as possible, Berendt immersed himself in Savannah life, and delved into both black and white culture at the time. Although integration had begun at the time of his writing the book, the two communities were still, predominantly, separated, and the author shows us this and offers a unique glimpse into the lives of both races.
In fact, through his book Berendt shows us both sides of practically every binary in the city at the time: black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, male and female. He shows how the cities diverse cast of characters’ lives were deeply entwined, and how the actions of one group, or even an individual, shaped the lives of others throughout the community.
Whilst people are, clearly, an integral part of the book, music also plays a big part in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Emma King, Johnny Mercer and many others are featured in the chapters marked out by nicknames or phrases they used. For those in love with the music of the Deep South this is the perfect book.
This stunning edition features photos of Savannah and the places and properties portrayed in the book. There’s a stark contrast between the photos, which are of people-less places, and as opposed to the chapters and narratives themselves, which teem with colourful characters are all named after titles or phrases used about the characters within.
It also features an introduction by the author himself, making it the perfect gift for fans of the book, or a great way to introduce yourself to Berendt’s Savannah.
In all, whether you choose to treat yourself or someone else, I would urge anyone looking to buy a copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good Evil to consider this meticulously crafted edition. With its introduction and haunting photographs of Savannah’s landscape, it is a beautiful book that will bring Berendt’s atmospheric tale to life.
The Folio Society edition of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good Evil, including a new introduction by the author, is available exclusively from http://www.FolioSociety.com