Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

By John Berendt


Welcome to the charming and mysterious world of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” 🌙🌳, a spellbinding book that takes you deep into the heart of Savannah, Georgia. Authored by the talented John Berendt, this book is a masterful blend of true crime and travelogue, making it a unique gem in the literary world.

John Berendt, a New York magazine editor, found himself captivated by the allure of Savannah during a visit in the 1980s. His fascination with the city and its eccentric inhabitants led him to write this book, which was published in 1994. “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is often described as a “non-fiction novel,” a genre that marries factual reporting with the storytelling techniques of fiction. This approach allows Berendt to delve deeply into the personalities and dynamics of Savannah society, making the city itself a central character in the narrative.

The book’s genre is a mix of true crime, biography, and travel, offering readers a vivid portrayal of life in Savannah while also unfolding a gripping murder mystery. Its title hints at the dual nature of Savannah, contrasting the genteel and charming image of the city with its darker, more enigmatic underbelly.

Through Berendt’s eyes, we explore the intricate tapestry of Southern culture, complete with its traditions, secrets, and contradictions. So, let’s dive into the captivating world of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” where every page brings a new discovery about the mesmerizing city of Savannah and its unforgettable residents. 🌺🔍

Plot Summary

“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” unfolds in the atmospheric city of Savannah, Georgia, and intricately weaves together the charm, mystery, and social dynamics of the South. Let’s break down the main events of the book:

Exposition — The book introduces John Kelso, a version of author John Berendt, who arrives in Savannah to write a feature on the lavish Christmas parties thrown by the city’s elite. Kelso is quickly drawn into the eccentric and opulent world of Savannah society.

Rising Action — As Kelso meets more of Savannah’s residents, he becomes fascinated with Jim Williams, a wealthy antiques dealer known for his influence and grand parties at the Mercer House. The plot thickens when, after a tumultuous evening, Williams is charged with the murder of Danny Hansford, a volatile young man with whom Williams had a tumultuous relationship. This event shocks the community and sets the stage for the legal battles that follow.

Climax — The climax revolves around the series of four trials that Jim Williams faces for the murder of Danny Hansford. With each trial, the tension in Savannah grows, as do the rumors and theories about what really happened the night Hansford was killed.

Falling Action — After years of legal battles, Jim Williams is eventually acquitted in the fourth trial, thanks in part to new evidence and a brilliant defense strategy. However, the victory is short-lived. The community remains divided over Williams’ innocence or guilt, and the strain of the trials takes a personal toll on everyone involved.

Resolution — Tragically, Jim Williams dies suddenly in his home, the Mercer House, not long after his final acquittal. His death marks an eerie end to the saga, leaving many questions unanswered and further cementing the story’s legend in Savannah lore. The book concludes with Kelso reflecting on the enigmatic nature of Savannah and its people, suggesting that the true essence of the city lies in its ability to blend the beautiful with the baleful, the visible with the unseen.

“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is more than just a crime story; it’s a deep dive into the soul of Savannah, revealing the complexities and idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants. Through its meticulously detailed plot, the book captures the spirit of a city where the lines between good and evil, like the shadows in Savannah’s moonlit squares, are beautifully blurred.

Character Analysis

“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is rich with vibrant, complex characters, each contributing to the unique tapestry of Savannah, Georgia. Let’s delve into the personalities and arcs of the main characters:

  • Jim Williams — A wealthy, self-made antiques dealer and the proprietor of the magnificent Mercer House. Williams is a blend of sophistication and mystery, known for his lavish parties and deep appreciation for art and history. Throughout the trials for the murder of Danny Hansford, Williams displays resilience and a stoic demeanor, although his guilt or innocence remains a subject of debate among Savannah’s residents. His character is a study in contradictions, embodying both the charm and the hidden complexities of the South.
  • Danny Hansford — A young, volatile man with a troubled past, Hansford is known for his explosive temper and tumultuous relationship with Jim Williams. His character serves as a catalyst for the main events of the book, with his murder and the subsequent trials exposing the darker undercurrents of Savannah society. Hansford represents the unpredictable and often destructive nature of human passions, challenging the community’s genteel façade.
  • John Kelso — A stand-in for the author, John Berendt, Kelso serves as the narrator and guide through the intricacies of Savannah. As an outsider, his observations provide a lens through which readers can explore the eccentricities and secrets of the city. Kelso’s journey from observer to participant reflects the captivating allure of Savannah, drawing him deeper into its mysteries.
  • Lady Chablis — A flamboyant and charismatic drag queen, the Lady Chablis steals every scene she’s in with her wit and confidence. Beyond her entertainment value, Chablis offers insight into the themes of identity and acceptance, challenging societal norms and highlighting the diversity of Savannah’s community. Her friendship with Kelso exemplifies the city’s ability to embrace individuals from all walks of life.
  • Minerva — A voodoo priestess who plays a crucial role in the narrative, particularly in relation to Jim Williams’ trials. Minerva’s practices and beliefs introduce elements of the supernatural, enriching the book’s exploration of themes like fate, justice, and the unseen forces that shape our lives. She embodies the mystical aspect of Savannah, bridging the gap between the physical world and the spiritual.

Here’s a summary of the character analysis in table format:

CharacterPersonality TraitsMotivationsDevelopment
Jim WilliamsSophisticated, Resilient, MysteriousTo clear his name, preserve his statusMaintains dignity and complexity throughout trials
Danny HansfordVolatile, Impulsive, TroubledDriven by anger and a desire for acceptanceCatalyst for main events, little personal growth due to early death
John KelsoObservant, Engaging, ReflectiveTo understand and document SavannahTransforms from an observer to an involved participant
Lady ChablisCharismatic, Bold, AuthenticTo live truthfully and captivate her audienceBecomes a symbol of courage and authenticity
MinervaMystical, Insightful, EnigmaticTo influence outcomes with spiritual practicesServes as a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms

Each character in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” adds depth and nuance to the narrative, reflecting the diversity and complexity of human nature against the backdrop of Savannah’s enchanting and enigmatic landscape.

Themes and Symbols

“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is rich with themes and symbols that intertwine to create a complex portrait of Savannah and its inhabitants. Let’s explore some of the major themes and symbols present in the book:


  • Appearance vs. Reality — The book frequently contrasts the outward appearances of Savannah’s society with the hidden truths and secrets that lie beneath. This theme is embodied in the picturesque setting of Savannah, which hides a world of intrigue, scandal, and darkness just under its charming surface.
  • The Nature of Good and Evil — The title itself hints at the exploration of moral ambiguity, questioning the nature of good and evil. Through the characters and their actions, the book suggests that these concepts are not always clear-cut and that people often embody both to varying degrees.
  • Isolation and Belonging — Many characters in the book grapple with feelings of isolation and the desire to belong. This theme is particularly evident in the portrayal of marginalized characters, like the Lady Chablis, who seek acceptance and community in a society that often rejects them.
  • The Influence of Place — Savannah, with its historical beauty and social dynamics, plays a central role in shaping the events and characters of the book. The theme suggests that the spirit and character of a place can deeply affect the people who live there.


  • The Bird Girl Statue — Featured on the cover of the book, the Bird Girl statue became an iconic symbol of the story. It represents the balance between innocence and knowledge, watching over Savannah and its secrets with a serene and detached gaze.
  • Mercer House — The home of Jim Williams, Mercer House, symbolizes the power and prestige of Savannah’s elite. It also becomes a setting where the themes of appearance versus reality and the blurred lines between good and evil are starkly played out.
  • Midnight — The concept of midnight serves as a symbol of the thin line between the mundane and the mysterious, the known and the unknown. It evokes the book’s exploration of the darker, hidden aspects of life in Savannah.
  • Voodoo and Spiritual Elements — Elements of voodoo and other spiritual practices in the book symbolize the unseen forces that influence the characters’ lives. They highlight the presence of alternative belief systems and the complexity of understanding fate and justice.

Together, these themes and symbols weave a rich tapestry that reflects the complexities of life in Savannah. They invite readers to ponder the deeper meanings behind the surface of things, exploring the nuances of morality, society, and human nature.

Style and Tone

John Berendt’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is celebrated not just for its intriguing content but also for its distinctive style and tone, which play crucial roles in setting the mood and atmosphere of the book. Here’s how these elements come together:

  • Narrative Style — Berendt employs a first-person narrative, providing a direct and intimate view of the events and characters. This perspective allows readers to experience Savannah through his eyes, adding a layer of personal engagement to the story. The narrative style is detailed and observant, capturing the nuances of the setting and the complexities of the characters.
  • Tone — The tone of the book is both captivating and reflective, blending humor with a sense of melancholy. Berendt’s tone varies from whimsical and light-hearted when depicting Savannah’s quirks and eccentricities, to somber and contemplative when exploring themes of isolation, injustice, and the nature of evil. This balance creates a rich, multifaceted reading experience.
  • Atmospheric Descriptions — One of Berendt’s strengths is his ability to evoke the atmosphere of Savannah. His descriptions are lush and vivid, painting a picture of the city that is as much a character as the people who inhabit it. The sensory details of architecture, gardens, and the Southern landscape immerse readers in the setting, contributing to the book’s haunting allure.
  • Dialogue — The dialogue in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is authentic and lively, capturing the unique voices of Savannah’s residents. Berendt’s skillful use of dialogue brings characters to life, revealing their personalities, backgrounds, and motivations through their interactions. This authenticity adds depth to the narrative and enhances the reader’s connection to the story.
  • Humor — Despite its themes of crime and morality, the book is laced with humor. Berendt’s wry observations and the absurdities of certain situations provide comic relief, highlighting the contradictions and eccentricities of Savannah society. This humor does not undermine the story’s serious aspects but rather adds complexity, making the narrative even more engaging.
  • Pacing — The pacing of the book is deliberate, with Berendt taking his time to develop characters and setting before diving into the murder mystery. This slow build enhances the suspense and allows readers to become fully immersed in the world of the story.

Together, these elements of style and tone contribute significantly to the unique experience of reading “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Berendt’s writing not only tells a compelling story but also transports readers to the heart of Savannah, making them feel as if they are wandering its historic squares and moss-draped streets alongside him.

Literary Devices used in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

John Berendt’s masterful use of literary devices in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” enhances the narrative’s depth, enriching the reader’s experience. Here are the top 10 literary devices employed in the book:

  1. Foreshadowing — Berendt skillfully uses hints and clues to foreshadow events, particularly the murder and subsequent trials. This technique builds suspense and keeps readers engaged, wondering how these hints will unfold within the narrative.
  2. Imagery — The vivid imagery in the book paints a detailed picture of Savannah and its inhabitants. Berendt’s descriptions of the city’s architecture, gardens, and atmospheric squares immerse readers in the setting, making Savannah itself a character in the story.
  3. Irony — There is a rich vein of irony running through the narrative, especially in the contrast between Savannah’s genteel appearance and the darker undercurrents of its society. This irony highlights the complexities and contradictions of the city and its people.
  4. Symbolism — Symbols, such as the Bird Girl statue and the Mercer House, are used throughout the book to represent deeper themes of innocence, power, and the blurred lines between good and evil.
  5. Personification — Berendt personifies Savannah, imbuing the city with life and character. This literary device helps readers connect with the setting on an emotional level, emphasizing its influence on the events and characters.
  6. Metaphor — The title itself is a metaphor, contrasting the idyllic image of a garden with the concept of evil, suggesting the coexistence of beauty and darkness in Savannah.
  7. Simile — Berendt uses similes to draw comparisons that enhance the reader’s understanding of characters and settings, making descriptions more relatable and vivid.
  8. Alliteration — The use of alliteration adds a rhythmic quality to the prose, making the narrative more engaging and memorable.
  9. Hyperbole — Hyperbolic statements are used to emphasize certain aspects of Savannah’s culture and the eccentricities of its residents, adding humor and insight into the social dynamics of the city.
  10. Anecdotes — Berendt includes anecdotes about the people he meets, which serve to illustrate broader themes and deepen the reader’s insight into the character and ethos of Savannah.

These literary devices, woven seamlessly into the narrative, enrich “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” making it not only a captivating story but also a beautifully crafted piece of literature. Through these techniques, Berendt invites readers to explore the layers of Savannah’s charm and mystery, offering a deeper understanding of the city and its complex inhabitants.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s illustrate the top 10 literary devices used in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” with examples and explanations for each, providing insight into how John Berendt employs these techniques to enrich his narrative.


Early mentions of tension between Jim Williams and Danny HansfordSets up the atmosphere of impending tragedy, hinting at the central conflict of the story.
Descriptions of Savannah’s eerie beautySuggests the dual nature of the city, foreshadowing the blend of charm and darkness that characterizes the narrative.


Detailed depictions of the Mercer House and its opulent interiorsCreates a vivid picture of the setting, emphasizing the grandeur and historical depth of Savannah.
Descriptions of the Spanish moss-draped squaresEvokes the atmospheric beauty of the city, immersing readers in its unique landscape.


Savannah’s reputation for genteel charm contrasted with its underbelly of secrets and crimeHighlights the ironic discrepancy between the city’s outward appearance and the realities of its society.


The Bird Girl statueSymbolizes the innocence and mystery that permeate the narrative, representing the balance between good and evil.


Describing Savannah as a character with its own moods and secretsBrings the city to life, suggesting it plays an active role in the unfolding events.


Comparing the city to a living, breathing entity with hidden depthsEmphasizes the complex, multifaceted nature of Savannah and its influence on the story.


Likening the Southern heat to a tangible presenceEnhances the sensory experience of the setting, making the atmosphere more palpable to the reader.


Use of phrases like “Spanish moss” and “mystic charm”Adds a lyrical quality to the prose, capturing the enchanting essence of Savannah.


Exaggerated descriptions of eccentric charactersAmplifies the quirky, unique nature of Savannah’s residents, adding humor and depth to the narrative.


Stories of encounters with local figures like the Lady ChablisProvide deeper insights into the community and its dynamics, illustrating broader themes through personal experiences.

Through these examples, it’s evident how Berendt’s use of literary devices not only embellishes his storytelling but also deepens the reader’s engagement with the narrative, offering a rich, multi-layered exploration of Savannah and its inhabitants.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – FAQs

What is “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” about?
It’s a non-fiction novel by John Berendt that explores the eccentricities of Savannah, Georgia, through the lens of a true crime story involving the murder trial of a prominent local antiques dealer, Jim Williams. The book delves into themes of good vs. evil, the complexity of social dynamics, and the mystical charm of Savannah.

Who is the main character in the book?
While the book features many vibrant personalities, Jim Williams, the antiques dealer accused of murdering Danny Hansford, is often considered the central figure due to his significant role in the plot and his impact on Savannah society. However, the city of Savannah itself could also be viewed as a main character, given its profound influence on the narrative.

Is “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” a true story?
Yes, the book is based on true events. John Berendt spent several years living in Savannah, where he gathered the stories and encounters that form the basis of the book. While some elements have been streamlined or dramatized for narrative cohesion, the core events and characters are real.

What genre does the book belong to?
The book is often categorized as a non-fiction novel or true crime. It combines factual reporting with the narrative style of fiction, creating a vivid portrayal of real-life events and personalities within the atmospheric setting of Savannah.

Was “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” adapted into a movie?
Yes, the book was adapted into a film directed by Clint Eastwood in 1997. While the movie captures the essence of the book’s setting and characters, like many adaptations, it makes certain changes to the plot and character dynamics.

How does the book depict Savannah, Georgia?
Savannah is depicted as a character in its own right, with its historic beauty, atmospheric charm, and deep-rooted social traditions. The book also unveils the city’s darker, more mysterious side, exploring its eccentricities, secrets, and the complex interplay of good and evil within its society.

What are the major themes of the book?
Major themes include the ambiguity of good and evil, the impact of place on people’s lives, the complexity of human relationships, and the clash between tradition and change. The book also touches on issues of justice, identity, and the search for belonging.

Why has “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” become so popular?
Its popularity stems from its captivating blend of true crime intrigue, vivid character studies, and the enchanting backdrop of Savannah. The book’s rich detail, atmospheric storytelling, and exploration of universal themes resonate with a wide audience, making it a compelling read.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
Who is the author of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”?John GrishamJohn BerendtStephen KingTruman CapoteB
In which city is the book set?AtlantaCharlestonSavannahNew OrleansC
What genre is the book primarily classified as?FictionNon-FictionRomanceMysteryB
Who was murdered in the story?Jim WilliamsMinervaDanny HansfordThe Lady ChablisC
What is the name of the famous statue associated with the book?The Angel of MercyThe Bird GirlThe Statue of LibertyVenus de MiloB
Which of the following themes is NOT explored in the book?The supernaturalThe nature of good and evilHigh school romanceThe influence of placeC
Who is the drag queen that becomes a prominent character?MinervaThe Lady ChablisSerenaLady GagaB
How does John Berendt relate to the story?He is the murdererHe is a fictional characterHe is the narratorHe is the defense lawyerC
What significant event does the book revolve around?A presidential electionA murder trialA natural disasterA famous partyB
Which of the following is a major setting within the book?Mercer HouseBuckingham PalaceThe White HouseThe Eiffel TowerA

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension and recall of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” focusing on its key aspects like characters, settings, and themes.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”:

“In the early hours, when the soft glow of moonlight washed over Savannah’s historic squares, the city whispered secrets carried by the gentle Southern breeze. The Spanish moss hanging from ancient oaks seemed to guard these tales, tales as old as the cobblestones that paved the paths of shadows and light.”


  1. Imagery – The vivid description of moonlight, historic squares, and Spanish moss creates a sensory experience, allowing the reader to visualize and feel the atmosphere of Savannah.
  2. Personification – The city is given the ability to whisper secrets, and the Spanish moss appears to guard tales, attributing human qualities to non-human subjects.
  3. Symbolism – The Spanish moss and cobblestones symbolize the depth of history and mystery enveloping Savannah, representing the stories and secrets embedded in the city’s identity.
  4. Simile (implied) – The comparison of tales to the ancient cobblestones suggests a likeness in their enduring nature, emphasizing the timeless quality of Savannah’s stories.

This exercise encourages you to explore how literary devices enhance the narrative, contributing to the richness of the text and the immersive experience of the reader.