Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994)

John Berendt

I always assumed I knew what true crime writing was. In the same way, you assume you know a lot of things. I thought I knew because I had once read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and thought that was the broad template. An in-depth immersion into the many facts of a crime, it’s surrounds, the criminals, the victims, the trial and the punishment.

Berendt’s book does not adhere to this template. It is a different kind of true crime writing and it’s not necessarily lesser but it is certainly different. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil itself is still a good book. I was simply surprised that it took such a different tack. Berendt’s book is written in a light journalistic and serial manner. The crime isn’t overly complicated and so Berendt instead investigates the local characters and town surrounding act of murder. There is a degree of conceit whereby the writing seeks to act as entertainment first and provide any form of investigation, resolution or solution as a distant second. As such Berendt revels in providing a southern gothic portrait of the city of Savannah and its eccentric inhabitants.

As a novice to true crime this book was entertaining and easy to read and almost pulpy with its first-person perspective and rearrangement of chronology to help the narrative. It shows how problematic true crime writing can be. How easily facts can be rearranged to amp up the entertainment factor. How easily the truth and non-fiction of an event can be morphed into fiction. This book doesn’t ask any searching questions into the nature of crime and how it relates to the human condition but it was a good introduction and primer towards some of the more harrowing true crime novels I’ve since read while also acting as a reminder that the genre, while serious and often intensely so, is also almost paradoxically still acting as a form of entertainment

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