Book Title – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Author – John Berendt
Genre – Customs & Traditions, Criminology, Murder & Mayhem
This is the last book of my yearlong challenge to read two books per month and what a great book to end with! Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been around for a long time.
Though I’d heard of this book and knew it was a story of a murder, I really didn't know anything else. The story takes place in Savannah, Georgia in the 80’s where the author and journalist, John Berendt, was living at the time. The events in the story are real, as are the characters, though not all characters may have their real names.
The first thing I like about the book is that it is not written as a newspaper account of a murder, though the author is a journalist. It feels like a story and I had to remind myself while reading that it is non-fiction. The characters in the story are wide and varied whether in social standing, temperament, or distance from the actual murder. Joe Odom is the first character (and I mean ‘character’ in every sense of the word) we meet. He’s a trained lawyer, a singer, known to everyone in the area, charismatic and well-liked. I wouldn't exactly call him a shyster, that feels derogatory, and Joe doesn’t come across that way. Yet he has ways of getting around issues that are inventive and often illegal.
The murder itself is unremarkable (what a thing to say!), but it is the follow up trials coupled with the insight from the author of how the people involved – directly and peripherally - felt, thought, and acted as a result of the murder that makes this such a fascinating story. It all leads the reader into a bit of insight in what it means to be a Savannahian. As John Berendt says, “I, too, had become enchanted by Savannah. But after having lived there for eight years, off and on, I had come to understand something of its self-imposed estrangement from the outside world.”
John’s writing flows easily and brings all the pieces together into a coherent story. There is a great balance between the descriptions setting the stages and his dialogue interactions with the characters. And some of his descriptions are marvelous. In describing Minerva he says, “Minerva spoke in a faraway voice. It came from so deep within her that the words sounded as if they had been uttered eons ago on a distant planet and were just now reaching the earth through her.”
I would highly recommend this book. It’s a well-written tale and yet is nonfiction. Within the pages is a bit of history and a lot of diversity. On the outside, as the reader, it was hard to put the book down.