Genre: non-fiction, true crime, very Southern Gothic
Setting: Savannah, Georgia 1980s
The true story of how the author took up part time residence in Savannah, Georgia shortly before one of his most esteemed new acquaintances in the neighborhood is charged with murder. Berendt traces the case and the lives of those involved in intimate and entertaining detail.
The good: Damned enjoyable read. John Berendt sure knows how to spin a yarn (the work is nonfiction but for the sake of storytelling slight fabrications were obvious and permissible). He paints vivid pictures of both Savannah and its inhabitants. The players in this one are dramatic, bizarre, and fascinating. Berendt is an excellent writer which makes this book a very easy read for those of you who have a difficult time committing to a book long term (or picking one up to begin with).
The bad: Once again, this is a matter of personal taste. Although on the whole I found the anecdotes about the various characters entertaining and fresh, there were times I felt the story could have done without them. They were fine setting the scene in Part I, but once we really had a main character established in Jim Williams they started to drag the pace a little towards the end. For the most part I would only clip out little bits here and there, when the story was entertaining or important but had too much flourish. In particular, I found the scene with Chablis in the chapter “Black Minuet,” almost entirely unnecessary-useless to the story, contributing no character development, and at times painfully awkward.
Random Tidbit: As I was reading, the characterization of Jim Williams caused me to think of Kevin Spacey ( a la House of Cards). He just had flavors of Frank Underwood about him. I did a cursory google search to find out more about the crime and saw there was an IMDb page for a movie version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Wouldn’t ya know it, Kevin Spacey was cast as Jim Williams! Which seems a little strange thinking about it now because the film was from 1997 and I can’t imagine Spacey playing a man in his 50s, over 20 years ago. Might have to give this one a watch.
*Here be spoilers. Ye’ve been warned*
I know I am seriously behind the times on this review. We’ll call it 4 years because I will be focusing exclusively on the book as I’ve not yet seen the movie. I am still undecided as to whether or not I will. I will forgo detailing the skinny and the fat on this one considering now that its a movie, most people already know its premise.
The good: Gillian Flynn knows how to write a compelling story. It was mostly a very smooth read which is a rare jewel these days.
The bad: On the subjective end of the scale, it was really difficult for me to emotionally invest in this book because I couldn’t identify at all with any of the main characters. This is kind of the point though, so I won’t linger on that particular disappointment.
On the objective end, the most glaring fault I find is that the story would have been better served had the book ended about 150 pages sooner than it did. It isn’t that the book was dragging, Flynn manages to maintain a swift pace up until the last page. It simply would have been a better story had it ended on the “big reveal.” Amy could have detailed fully her deception in one final triumphant chapter and the reader would be left with an image of her driving away to freedom.
Even though this might leave some readers upset about justice unserved, and worrying over the fate of the “innocent” Nick, it would be a far better ending than the weird anticlimactic tango between Nick and Amy upon her return. And in the original ending justice is still unserved.
The problem with Amy’s return is that it lead the book into some clichés. The scheming necessary for Amy’s return began to produce what I call “Sherlockian fatigue.” It’s the ennui that occurs when reading novels, especially crime and mystery novels, when situations (or characters) are a little too perfect, forcing the reader to sustain their disbelief a little too much. That Detective Boney, Tanner the attorney, Nick, and his sister would all know the extent of Amy’s schemes, and that they wouldn’t attempt to make a case? That Amy literally killed a man and because she claimed self-defense nobody looked into it? I am going to lay some of the blame on the editor this time. Somebody should have told Gillian to reign in a bit on this one.
Would recommend? Yes. This one is worth the read.