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1-Page Summary of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a combination of travelogue, true crime, autobiography, and Southern gothic. It tells the story of John Berendt’s experience living in Savannah during a sensational murder trial. The book was an immediate success when first published because it captured people’s attention with its drama as well as its exploration into Savannah culture and unusual array of interesting characters.
Part 1 begins by introducing Jim Williams. He is responsible for renovating Savannah’s historic downtown area in the 1950s. His own home, the Mercer House, is one of the grandest homes in Savannah and he takes pride in his collection of both Faberge objects as well as his World War Two collection, which includes a Nazi flag. During an interview with Berendt, Danny Hansford also shows up. The author learns that Hansford has unlimited access to Williams’ house because of a medical condition that requires someone to watch over him when he blacks out from time to time. Later on we learn about their sexual relationship together through various flashbacks throughout Part 2.
Berendt meets several people who are part of the fabric of Savannah, such as Joe Odom, a con man and lawyer with an eye for business. He is always looking to make money in any way he can. The author also encounters Mandy Nichols, one of Odom’s partners in crime; Emma Kelly, a Savannah singer known throughout the city; Mr. Glover and Patrick (invisible dog); Luther Driggers (depressed alcoholic inventor); Lee Adler, Williams’s rival; and Lady Chablis (African American drag queen).
Part 2 focuses on the aftermath of the murder. Most people in Savannah, Georgia are convinced that Danny Hansford’s murderer will be acquitted because he was a violent man and Williams is rich and well-respected. Also, there have been many other wealthy residents who committed crimes without consequences. However, when Williams is found guilty of first degree murder by the court, Savannah residents are shocked and disappointed by his party cancellation since it was one of their main social events for the year. Williams remains confident that he will eventually be found innocent even though his defense team cost him a lot of money; instead he has faith in voodoo rituals performed by Minerva as well as his own mind to alter events. In the end, however, four trials take place: two convictions overturned by judges; one trial ends in a mistrial; and another takes place in Augusta with an acquittal verdict for William’s second trial there.
After being acquitted, Williams returns to Mercer House. Six months later, he dies of pneumonia in the very same room where he killed Danny Hansford.
Part 1, Chapter 1: “An Evening in Mercer House”
The author interviews Jim Williams, who owns the Mercer House in Savannah. He grew up poor and has since become one of the richest people in Savannah. He earned his fortune through real estate and antiques business by restoring historic homes like the Mercer House.
Williams and Berendt tour the entire house, which is a city block. Williams tells stories of his life as well as of Savannah’s elite. In the middle of telling a story about Jacqueline Onassis, who came to visit him unannounced, they are interrupted by Danny Hansford, an employee that works for Williams restoring furniture. He yells at someone named “Goddammit” and drinks vodka before leaving in a car with squealing tires. The author explains that Hansford often acts this way because he has hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and blackouts sometimes when he doesn’t eat right or exercise enough.