Sunday, March 12, 2006

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Margaret Mitchell called Savannah, Georgia "that gently mannered city by the sea" and indeed, with Spanish moss hanging from the huge oak trees and the pale shine of the moon reflecting off the pillars of Savannah's stately mansions, the imagination can conjure up an idyllic setting where the clop of hooves on the cobblestone streets echo in one's mind and sweat from the glass of a tasty mint julep leaves a ring on the tabletop.

"You mustn't be taken in by the moonlight and magnolias. There's more to Savannah than that. Things can get very murky," says Jim Williams.

If anyone would know, it's Williams. He stands at the center of John Berendt's hugely entertaining account of a city, a murder trial, and the social machinations --- high and low --- that mesh on the fringes of the politely hushed and multi-layered Savannah society.

An antiques dealer whose parties became the talk of all Savannah, Williams one day finds himself in a lot of trouble...he's charged with the murder of a young gigolo, Danny Hansford. A part-time employee and house guest of Williams, Hansford had a reputation for his violent temper and his sexual proclivity to service both men and women. Williams claims self-defense and a trial ensues.

Through a complicated mix of legal maneuvers, Williams is tried four separate times for Hansford's murder, the only man to have achieved that distinction in the Georgia criminal justice system.

As compelling as the murder story and the resulting trial are to Berendt's tale, it's the magnificent portrayal of the history of Savannah and the cast of quirky characters that people the city that make MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL so successful.
Besides Williams, we meet Joe Odom, a former lawyer, tour-guide, and piano player, whose charm and talent are only outweighed by his audacious behavior.

Luther Driggers keeps the city on edge. An inventor who failed to get rich after discovering the pesticide and process that led to the flea collar, he now walks the streets with a bevy of flies attached to his person by threads, carrying a vial of poison that he threatens to dump in Savannah's water supply.

Lady Chablis, a drag queen and performer who takes a shine to Berendt, provides some of the more hilarious moments in the book. And then there's Minerva, a voodoo high-priestess whom Williams hires to ease his guilt by calming the ghost of the murdered Danny Hansford and to bring what luck she can to his side during his legal troubles.

Yes, this is a book about a murder, but it's so much more. We can thank Berendt for taking the scenic route through Savannah in the telling. The historical facts, the anecdotes about the rich and eccentric citizens of the city, and the compelling story of the forces --- both dark and light --- that come together in MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL add up to one wickedly funny, wholly evocative romp of a read.


Blogger livinghigh said...

no other book reviews, my erudite frnd?

10:32 PM  
Blogger Sex and the City said...

will post some soon CT :-)

3:07 AM  

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