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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

About the Book

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

The victim is Danny Hansford, a small-time hustler who, early on a Saturday morning in May 1981, was shot dead by his sometime employer Jim Williams in the latter's exquisitely restored house in Savannah, Georgia. As Berendt reconstructs Danny's death--and follows Williams's staggering four murder trials--he also presents us with a lovingly detailed social anthropology of Savannah, whose past is full of murders that have been covered up and cheerfully gossiped about for decades afterwards. The author keeps a discreet distance from his protagonists. His true object is to see how a crime engages the collective imagination of a city that is "as remote as Pitcairn Island" [p. 36] and as decadent as Sodom, and whose citizens are so deliriously self absorbed that it takes a murder to shake them out of their usual preoccupations.

If Hansford and Williams occupy the foreground of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the background figures of Berendt's canvas sometimes eclipse them in interest and sheer perversity: a fading belle who packs a pistol in her décolletage; a charming, pianoÐplaying con man who moves like a hermit crab from one empty showplace house to the next, accompanied by his highÐliving entourage and pursued closely by his creditors; a moneyed dowager who conducts business from a cruising Mercedes limousine; a sour alcoholic inventor who claims to own a vial of poison so powerful that it could kill off the entire city; a voodoo priestess in purple shades; and a foul-mouthed black drag queen who passes so convincingly for a woman that she is able to extort abortion money from the parents of her white boyfriend. And Berendt himself becomes one of the book's characters, an ingenuous expatriate Yankee who, in the process of making himself at home in Savannah, manages to go everywhere, meet everyone, and ferret out every morsel of the city's delicious gossip--except, perhaps, the truth behind Danny Hansford's death.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
by John Berendt

  • Publication Date: June 28, 1999
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0679751521
  • ISBN-13: 9780679751526