Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

by John Berendt

Random House 1994 309 pp.



John Berendt is one hell of a writer. With Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, he has managed to write a suspenseful and funny first-person piece of nonfiction that has the punch and drive of a good novel.

In the first half of the book, he presents his characters, and they are brilliantly drawn: a black drag queen, an articulate southern gentleman con artist, Minerva the voodoo priestess, the rich gay antique dealer, the angry misanthrope who has enough poison to kill an entire city, and other Savannah natives who are sad and provocative.

Each person is meticulously drawn, like a portrait in a painting, and then evoked in shimmering prose. If Berendt had done only this, we would have had a good book. But he takes the next step with the murder of a young man in the house of the antique dealer who claims self-defense. This murder actually occurred on May 2, 1981, and for almost 10 years we watch the vicissitudes of the trial, the conviction, the appeal, the throwing out of the first verdict and the final triumph a kind of poetic justice.

This is the kind of book you cannot stop reading until the final denouement: it deals dramatically with power, sex, social status and snobbism.

It's a murder mystery to boot, and by the time you are vicariously involved in the murder, you have absorbed the sights, sounds and atmosphere of this still-beautiful haunting southern city which in itself is a kind of living character. In many respects, this book is bleak, as it is a sad, though witty, commentary on human nature.

James Olsen, who often wrote for POINT while living in Charleston, now lives in San Miguel, Mexico.

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© Copyright by POINT, 1995

Last modified 7/9/95