John Berendt Critical Essays

Introduction

John Berendt Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

Born in 1939, Berendt is an American nonfiction writer and journalist.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994), a combination travel book and true-crime narrative, begins as a tour of Savannah, Georgia, a city Berendt describes as "an isolated environment with its own rules, where each person you meet is stranger than the next." Drawing on his familiarity with Savannah's population—he lived there for a seven-year period—Berendt introduces such colorful and unique characters as a voodoo queen, a black transvestite, a con man who squats in mansions when their owners are out of town, and a local inventor who threatens to poison the city's water supply. A major figure in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is Jim Williams, an antiques dealer, gun buff, and owner of one of the largest houses in the city. When Williams is accused of murdering his male lover, the book enters the true-crime genre, and in recounting the four subsequent murder trials involving Williams, Berendt examines the effects of the trials on Savannah society. Critics have generally praised Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, especially for the way Berendt captures Savannah's eccentric—and yet genteel—residents and history. Glenna Whitley has observed that Berendt's account may be "the first true-crime book that makes the reader want to call a travel agent … for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime."