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VINE VOICEon 27 December 2010
I was recommended this by a friend, I'd heard the name but knew nothing about it at all, so this was a very pleasant surprise.

Part True-Crime thriller, part travelogue, part quirky character study and part eulogy on man's love of a city, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a truly unique book, and that is something that you can't say too often anymore.

The book revolves around the true life case of Jim Williams and his trial for his lover/employee Danny. Williams insisted it was self-defence, but the city were determined to charge him with murder. But the murder is just a centre piece for a study of the eccentric city of Savannah, clinging to the past and it's own inimitable style in the Old South. It is a city concerned with enjoyment and hedonism, but never in a self-destructive way, inward looking, but not prohibitively and it is populated by a cast of characters that are so bizarre as to be real.

Men walking imaginary dogs, erudite conmen, voodoo priestesses and rowdy transexuals fill the pages of this novel and make it eminently readable. Indeed so intriguing are the people within the book that it is very easy to get swept along with the sheer enjoyment of the place and to forget that the book revolves around a very real killing.

Berendt has managed to create something which spans many genres, but holds a place that is firmly it's own and that, like Savannah is something to be celebrated in this age of idendikit, fads and fashions.
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on 27 August 2014
How to classify this enchanting book ? History ? Travel ? Social Comment ? Detective story ? Mystery ? None of these really. Because this book doesn't fit into any known category, it takes a few pages to get into, but once you have met the incredible and endearing cast of characters you become hooked and it's difficult to put down. The story is told by a writer who is researching the restored southern city of Savannah, USA in order to write a book- and this is it. There is a murder: the murderer is tried and convicted four times but always released on appeal but this extraordinary fact is quite eclipsed by the residents of the city who, for the most part exist on the fringes of this court case but whose antics and life styles, whilst stretching the credulity of the reader, nevertheless supply the comedy to offset the otherwise serious subject.
The social traditions of the Deep South take quite a beating as the story progresses.
As I read this book in the kindle edition without introduction, I am unable to comment on the authenticity of the story or whether these outrageous characters are drawn from life or cleverly tweeked into existence by the author John Berendt.
There are moments when the flow of the narrative tends to falter as we turn from a hilarious tea party back to the court case then retreat to a character we haven't seen for a few chapters but all in all, I found this a very entertaining and different read.
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on 25 August 2004
Anybody who did not grow up in the American south will be amused and charmed by the characters portrayed in this book. Anyone who grew up in the south will really understand the characters because they will almost assuredly know someone in their hometown that fits the same description. I was able to put different names on several of the people portrayed in this book and thus picture them with perfect clarity. No matter where one might live in the south, if you haven't been gobbled up by the so-called new south, you will feel like you have known these people for years.
The story is as intriguing as the characters in it and the reader will find themselves drawn more and more into the story. I finished the last one hundred and seventy-five pages in one sitting. I was so caught up in what was going on that I couldn't put the book down and ended up going to be around 2:30 in the morning. Berendt develops the characters so well that one really begins to care about what happens to them and what they do next. This is one amazing book.
When the movie came out I really didn't think I would like it and didn't see it until a few months ago. After seeing the movie I just had to read the book and I am glad I did. There are some differences in the movie and the book and while the movie is good, the book is better. In fact, I have seldom read a book that I liked as much as this one. John Berendt had a lot of good material to start with to be sure, but his wonderful style of writing makes the story entrancing. It is clear that Berendt considers many of these people his friends and that they feel the same way about him. That he cares deeply about both the people and the story comes through very clearly and is part of the reason the reader will also begin to care.
In case you haven't seen the movie I am not going to give away any of the story in this review but whether you have seen the movie or not, do not miss the book. Beg, borrow or buy, I don't care how you get this book but I highly recommend that you read it.
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on 4 October 1999
This book just creeps up on you and leaves you gasping with wonder. It's a travel book and a murder mystery all in one and soooo much better than the film. I lent this to my father and he had read it within two days. He gave it back with the words "I want to go to Savannah and meet these people". You will feel the same way. Buy it, read it, lend it to someone else and spend many happy hours discussing Williams' guilt or innocence. A brilliant read.
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on 15 December 1998
It's easy to understand why so many readers thought John Berendt's book was pure fiction on its first publication. Populated by bizarre, eccentric characters and featuring extraordinary plots, it reads like a rip-roaring novel. But Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is fact. Centred on a murder case involving a rich antiques dealer, Jim Williams, and a young hustler, the book is much more than just a blow by blow account of the killing and the legal manouvres that followed it. Instead this is the story of the Georgian city of Savannah and its remarkable residents - an outrageous drag queen, an insect-obsessed man with a craving for poison, a slave to voodoo, society dames and charming conmen are just some on show here. Some are likeable, others objectionable - particularly the rich, powerful and manipulative. It all adds up to a compelling account of life in this, on the surface, genteel place. It is a cliche that a book is impossible to put down but in the case of Berendt's remarkable work, it's certainly true.
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on 4 October 2007
When I first encountered this book, I'd not read any reviews and the movie had not yet been made. So I was totally unaware of what was going to happen. I enjoyed the first half of the book, but the writing and story really came alive for me in the second half. I'd half-way guessed something like this might be coming, and sure enough, Berendt confirmed it. Add this one to the "keeper" pile because you'll want to read it again and again.
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on 17 February 2010
Wonderful. The storyline could have been so dull, but it is John Berendt's writing ability that has captured the whole feeling of the people and the area. To be able to write naturally, as one thinks, is such a rare skill. Most people write with restriction - a mental block which inhibits the natural flow of clear thought. I must now get any of his other writings.
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on 15 August 2014
I would describe this as a Southern Miss Marple. It's great. It really draws a picture of the city, and it's preserved old fashioned society that was still around in the eighties. It's non-fiction, and as usual reality is stranger than anything you could make up. All the characters are brilliant and the anecdotes are so vivid I spent a lot of time wondering how much of them were actually based on interviews and how much were embellished for effect. I decided it didn't matter- it's a really nice read either way and the people are really diplomatically and lovingly painted you can't help but like them, even the rich snobs you feel like you should hate. Its more than a murder mystery- it delves into the economics, society, preservation, culture, race and attitudes of a city and tells you more about Savannah than a visit or a museum exhibit ever could.
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on 8 April 2011
This book was like two different books put together. The first part didnt enthrall me I have to say. It was a bit boring, a bit like lots of different stories about people put together with no real link. But the second half of the book was really good. Thoroughly enjoyed the whole tale about the murder etc. I had a few issues generally in that I found it hard to place the book in a time - I kept thinking it was the early 80's but it seemed like the society was still living in a bygone era. I also wasnt clear about when the author had spoken to the people he talks about in the first part of the book because there were things there that I would have thoguht were relevant evidence to Jim's trial but they never came up.
Aside from that, I liked the book overall. Would have given it 3.5 but there is no option for .5 therefore its just a three.
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on 25 March 2015
Excellent true life crime book. Beautifully written and constructed, the book gives an insight into a world both compelilng and appauling; it manages to do both in an engaging and non judgmental way. Well worth a read.
The book itself was dispatched quickly by the seller, and was in good condition.
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