Southern Reads: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil



It has been over 20 years since the publication of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In that span, John Berendt’s  book has racked up approximately 2,700,000 hard cover sales as well as over 1,300,000 in paperbacks sales. It also spent 216 weeks on top of the New York Times Best Sellers List.

“Rule number one: Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen. That’s when you find out everything you want to know.”

In case you are one of the few who haven’t read the the book as of yet, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil recounts the trials of the eccentric antique dealer Jim Williams, who was accused of murdering Danny Hansford on May 2, 1981, in Williams’ home, the beautiful and architecturally renowned Mercer-Williams House.


Jim Williams’ murder trials serves as the dramatic thread that binds together fascinating characters such as The Lady Chablis, a club performer with a manly secret, the piano-playing con artist Joe Odom,  the voodoo priestess Minerva, the lady of 6,000 songs Emma Kelly, attorney Sonny Seiler and many other mysterious real life characters of Savannah.

John Berendt

The author John Berendt lived in a small apartment just off Forsyth Park and spent eight years taking notes and penning what would become a best seller, putting Savannah in the travel destination spotlight. Hotel-motel tax revenues rose about twenty-five percent in the two years following publication of the book, and cottage industries related to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil sprang up, as did trolley tours of the main sites.

The book won the Southern Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.

The rights were sold to Warner Brothers to make a film adaptation and Clint Eastwood was brought on to direct. On May 5, 1997, shooting began on Monterey Square in Savannah. The cast included Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams, Jude Law as Danny Hansford, John Cusack as the John Berendt character (renamed John Kelso), Paul Hipp as Joe Odom, Jack Thompson as Sonny Seiler (Seiler himself played the judge in the trial), Irma P. Hall as Minerva, and Eastwood’s daughter Alison as Mandy Nichols (a romantic interest of Odom in the book, of Kelso in the movie).

You can read more about the beautiful Mercer-Williams house (in which Danny Williams was shot) here as like all things in Savannah it also has a mysterious  past

“We have a saying: If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, ‘What’s your business?’ In Macon they ask, ‘Where do you go to church?’ In Augusta they ask your grandmother’s maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is ‘What would you like to drink?”


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