Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Book Review No. 3: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear that I'm finally done blethering on about Hawaii. Time to get back to the real world with a book review. I'm so very behind with these, having just started reading book no.8 of the year, but only now getting round to reviewing book no.3; expect a spate of book review posts in the near future!
This was the second Book Club book for 2014. I remember watching the film way back when in 1997 (I had to Google it to find out the date), but I couldn't remember what it was about apart from there was a big fancy house and Kevin Spacey played the lead role (Jim Williams). Clearly made an impression on me, not. Interestingly, having just Googled it, I see that Jude Law played the part of Williams' alleged young lover Danny Hanson; well, who knew?

So, back to the book. This is the description given on Amazon:
"Genteel society ladies who compare notes on their husbands' suicides. A hilariously foul-mouthed black drag queen. A voodoo priestess who works her roots in the graveyard at midnight [hence the book's title.] A morose inventor who owns a bottle of poison powerful enough to kill everyone in town. A prominent antiques dealer who hangs a Nazi flag from his window to disrupt the shooting of  a movie. And a redneck gigolo whose conquests describe him as a 'walking streak of sex'.
These are some of the real residents of Savannah, Georgia, a city whose eccentric mores are unerringly observed - and whose dirty linen is gleefully aired - in this utterly irresistible book. At once a true-crime murder story and a hugely entertaining and deliciously perverse travelogue, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is as bracing and intoxicating as half-a-dozen mint juleps."

The book is loosely based around the relationship between Jim Williams (the antiques dealer mentioned above) and his handyman/lover Danny Hanson (the gigolo above) - a relationship that ends with Williams shooting Hanson dead; Williams claimed it was self defence and ended up going to trial FOUR times over the shooting. I won't tell you the outcome of any of the trials, in case you want to read the book yourself.

Alongside Williams and Hanson, there is an amazing cast of outlandish, eccentric, compelling, intriguing characters, not least Savannah itself. The book acts as a travelogue, with Savannah as a much a part of the story as the people who live there. And reading this book has made me want to visit Savannah, to appreciate first hand the architecture, the historic buildings and squares and to experience the 'southern charm' for which its inhabitants are known.

Among our eight book club members this was not a popular choice; in fact I was the only one (other than the lady who suggested it) who gave it a positive review. The overwhelming criticism was that it reads like a (very, very long) magazine article; I think this is a valid point and especially so when you consider that the author is a journalist.

It took me a fair while to realise that the book is based on a true story; I was happily reading away assuming it was all fiction until something clicked in my brain and I had the sense to read the back cover and that's where I saw the 'Travel/Crime' heading. A-ha! However, because the sequence of true events has been rearranged and the book does read like a novel (or long magazine article, depending on your point of view), I think I can be forgiven for my literary faux pas.

To sum up, I enjoyed the book very much; I found it intriguing, interesting and amusing. Perhaps my love for all things American made me predisposed to liking the book, and I can understand why many people (such as the majority of my book club) would not have enjoyed it as it is definitely written in a certain style (the author's journalistic training certainly comes to the fore), but if you are at all interested in the (recent) history of particular American states or cities, or you enjoy books with compelling characters, then this one just might be worth a look.


  1. Living near Savannah I have to tell you that the book depicts Savannah very well. It's very proud of its eccentricity. I liked the book and the movie and any time someone comes to visit us for the first time I always recommend reading the book or seeing the movie. Did you know Clint Eastwood directed the movie?

  2. Oh, I'm happy, I love book review posts almost as much as travel posts. Don't think I'll be adding this one to my Amazon wishlist, but I'm looking forward to reading more!


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