Over Halloween, Book Club likes to read something scary. This year, we chose the True Crime (or Historical Fiction depending on the bookstore) book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Surprisingly, it was a quick read. I usually plod through non-fiction. There’s a lot to digest and mull over. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil wasn’t like that, though. Almost immediately I completely forgot it wasn’t a work of fiction. It’s well written, incredibly engaging, and the characters and city of Savanah sparkle. There’s a Fitzgerald feel about “the hostess city” even in the first chapter. Jim, a famous antique collector, and our narrator meet early on. The two discuss the famous Mercer House Jim lives in, the eccentric part-time staff member Danny, and their volatile shooting escapades when tempers fly. Jim invites John, the narrator, to one of two parties he throws for Christmas, the famous one everyone talks about, with socialites and gossip column coverage or the men only event the following day. John replies:
“The one..least likely to involve gunfire.”
Under normal circumstances, this would set a reader up for the murder we except in a true crime tale. Guns, hot-tempered people, societal pressures of being both wealthy and set apart from a traditional aristocracy of the city, all spell certain doom. Only, somehow I forgot it was coming. Instead, I was introduced to a charming cast of the city and delighted by the entire picture of what was going on. Who needed a plot, conflict, or climax? I love all the characters in the book, in particular, the supporting cast: the man who wrestles with his own demons, the Lady Chablis the lovely transvestite entertainer, and Joe Odom, the outlaw lawyer with a constant party. As Joe puts it:
“We’ve got a weirdo bug specialist slinking around town with a bottle of deadly poision. We’ve got a nigger drag queen, and an old man who walks an imaginary dog, and now a faggot murder case. My friend you are getting me and Mandy into one hell of a movie.”
The personalities of the characters pop against the beautiful Savanah background. I so very much wanted to be there. The murder case was almost unimportant. So I liked the book a lot. But I didn’t care who the murder was, what happened to the accused, or how local politics played out. In the end, I was just an out of towner with an excuse to be welcomed into the Hostess City and I’d take whatever excuse I could get.