Book Review 7: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

5 Feb
The cover of the 1994 novel

The cover of the 1994 novel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perusing CannonballRead while in a book rut, I saw faintingviolet’s review of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and couldn’t believe I’d never read it. It’s right up my alley – salacious gossip, Southern setting, murder mystery, small town style drama unfolding in the middle of an almost unbelievable set of trials.

Part I of the novel introduces the reader to the city of Savannah. Savannah is a character of its own in the book, and the city surpasses the sum of its very quirky inhabitants. You meet Joe Odom, a broke ex-lawyer running some kind of trashy piano bar salon where ever he’s currently squatting. And Lady Chablis, the gorgeous transvestite who tricks the author into being her chauffeur  And of course Jim Williams, he of the antiques and fabulous, prestigious part fame.

Part II is what happens after the murder. The most fun part of this book is that it’s not a whodunit, it’s a whydunit. We know Jim Williams pulled the trigger.  Self defense or cold blooded murder? This is not the typical crime novel trope with the angelic, innocent victim who was clearly wronged.  This is real life; murder is messy; Williams’s victim Hansford was a male hustler with a violent temper. It depends on what evidence you believe. It depends on who you’re friends with in the town. It depends on who you like the best.

There were two things I disliked about this novel. First, the writer tells the story in first person and I found that the author was distracting at times. The author was a character, meeting with people, participating in their lives, but we knew so little about the author it felt weird. It felt like it was written in third person anyway, so the first person perspective was distracting.

And second, this is described by Wikipedia as a “faction” novel, or a fictionalized account of facts. The end of the book includes a disclaimer, which basically says that this book is based on factual events, but some things are fictionalized, and the people are real, except where he uses pseudonyms for their protection. What does that mean?! I can’t even. I’m sure it’s for legal reasons but for some reason the inability of this book to classify itself fully as nonfiction or fully as nonfiction irritated me. It didn’t impact my reading experience, but it created a lot of questions when I finished.

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One Response to “Book Review 7: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Review #7: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berednt | Cannonball Read V - February 5, 2013

    […] believe I’d never read it. It’s right up my alley – salacious gossip, Southern setting, murder mystery, small town style drama unfolding in the middle of an almost unbelievable set of […]

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