Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt


This book follows New York-based writer John Berendt’s move to Savannah, Georgia in the 1980s and the unbelievable events that transpired during his time there. The book’s initial focus is on the people Berendt befriends in Savannah and the general Southern way of life. However, it later transitions into an account of a real-life murder mystery when one of Savannah’s very own residents—and John’s friend— Jim Williams, is caught up in a highly publicized trial.

Berendt’s style of writing is seamless as he explores the strange, yet charming Savannahian atmospherics and how one big trial shook up one little town.

Memorable Quotes

“The music continued in that vein, off and on, throughout the day and late into the evening. It did the same the following day and the day after that. The piano was a permanent part of the atmosphere, apparently, and so was the party—if a party was what it was,” (39).

“Joe started to play the piano in the middle of Mandy’s story. ‘In the morning,’ he said, ‘three bottles of liquor and a half dozen glasses were missing. That doesn’t sound like a burglary to me. It sounds like a party. And the only thing that annoys me about it is that we weren’t invited,” (48).

“‘Did I ever tell you about them? Well, we keep a lot of insect colonies in big glass jars out there. Some of them have been breeding for twenty five years. That’s a thousand generations. All they know about life is what goes on inside their jar. They haven’t been exposed to pesticides or pollution, so they haven’t developed immunities or evolved in any way. They stay the same, generation after generation. If we released them into the world, they’d die. I think something like that happens after seven generations in Savannah. Savannah gets to be the only place you can live. We’re like bugs in a jar,'” (75).

“Joe had nothing against convicted bank robbers—or getaway drivers either—but he felt foolish entrusting his cash register to a dedicated thief,” (92).

“‘Is everyone out?’ the fire captain asked.

‘Everyone I know about,’ said Joe.

‘You mean there might be people in your house you don’t know about?

‘Captain,’ said Joe, ‘there have been times when there were people in my bed I didn’t know about,'” (93).

“Savannahians drove fast. They also liked to carry their cocktails with them as they drove. According to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, more than 8 percent of Savannah’s adults were ‘known alcoholics,’ which may have accounted for the disturbing tendency of motorists to run up over the curb and collide with trees,” (95).

“Burt had a shiny bald head and sad eyes. ‘How you doing Chablis?’ he asked.

‘Well, I ain’t on food stamps yet,’ she said. ‘But I’m gettin’ real close. It’s a good thing y’all don’t pay me any more than you do, or I might never qualify.’ Burt did not answer,” (120).

“‘When people like that see someone like me, who’s never joined their silly pecking order and who’s taken great risks and succeeded, they loathe that person. I have felt it many times. They don’t have any say-so over me, and they don’t like that at all,'” (237).

“Joe ignored the order. ‘The best response is always no response,’ he said. ‘It buys you two or three months’ breathing time, six if you’re lucky,'” (262).


One of my best friends back home loaned me MGGE a couple of weeks ago telling me she fell in love with it extraordinarily quickly and couldn’t get it out of her head. It was difficult for her to identify why it had such a notable impact on her, but she wanted me to read it and see how I felt. Coincidentally, I had briefly heard of this book beforehand on a tour of Savannah as a couple of summers ago. It was my first time in Savannah and the tour fell on the hottest day of the entire summer which meant every tour guide was vehemently fanning herself as she explained the sights from our open-air bus. When our bus approached the main house mentioned in the book, the guide explained Berendt’s book was a wild success and brought a good amount of tourism to Savannah. However, I had no idea then that it would take me two years before I reached for this book. Reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a way for me to return to Savannah and understand a little bit more about the general culture there as well as reflect on how I felt when I visited.

As I touched on at the top of this review, part of the book’s beauty is the atmosphere evoked on each page. It doesn’t feel forced by any means. In fact, the way each park and house are brought to life is smooth and effortless. It’s easy to fall into and I loved that about it.

One thing I was somewhat taken aback by was the subject matter and general lack of true crime. Maybe I misunderstood what the book was about beforehand, but I was expecting much more mystique and in general something completely different than what the story actually turned out to be. Although the book is arguably more focused on the shooting in Jim Williams’ house than it is on anything else, a substantial piece of the plot (mostly the beginning of the book) explores the varying social circles within Savannah. This big plot point simply put is: Savannah doesn’t want change. Savannah welcomes outsiders, but she will have you know she is fine with the way she is and she definitely doesn’t need outsiders to tell her otherwise. This us vs. them mentality is partly owed to the fact that Berendt himself is an outsider, yet also contradicted as he is able to join the high-flying social circles of Savannah quite easily.

All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely. The writing reminded me of Erik Larson’s, Devil in the White City which made my experience that much better. It highlights Savannah’s good and bad points fairly while also shedding light on a captivating trial and even stranger people. My friend and I both repeatedly said we had to keep reminding ourselves it was non-fiction while reading because everything seemed so outrageous and unrealistic. If that’s not great non-fiction, I don’t know what is.

If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you read this book!


If We Were Villains


If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

“If We Were Villains is written with the intention of paying homage to William Shakespeare—who has had more than enough defamers, detractors, and deniers. (Lord, what fools these mortals be.)”


Oliver Marks is finally getting out of prison. For what, we don’t know. What we do know is that in the September of 1997 Oliver roamed the halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory with six other thespians, friends, and fellow lovers of Shakespeare for the fourth and final year. Through intensive classes, grueling rehearsals, and long study sessions, the seven spent nearly every waking moment together. But as they prepare for their upcoming performance of Julius Caesar, something in the group’s dynamic begins to slowly shift.

Through Oliver’s captivating narration the reader follows the lives of Dellecher’s top theatre students as they navigate their roles on and offstage. But when the drama begins to follow its way offstage, the curtain call is only the beginning.

Memorable Quotes

“The number of auditions under my belt didn’t matter; the anxiety never left me,” (page 14).

“I, on the other hand, was average in every imaginable way: not especially handsome, not especially talented, not especially good at anything but just good enough at everything that I could pick up whatever slack the others left,” (page 16).

After a slightly awkward pause in which I exchanged quick baffled glances with Filippa and Alexander, Meredith said, ‘Did that just happen? For God’s sake, it’s just a play.’

‘Well.’ Frederick sighted, removed his glasses, and began to polish them on the hem of his shirt. ‘Duels have been fought over less,'” (page 52).

“There had always been small rivalries between us, but never such an open display of hostility. With a sip of tea I persuaded myself that we were all simply overreacting. Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster,” (page 53).

“Silence settled, and I was struck by the senseless idea that we and everything around us were made of glass. I was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid something might break,” (page 77).

“The lake, the broad black water, lurked in the background of every scene we played after that—like a set from a play we did once shuffled to the back of the scene shop where it would have been quickly forgotten if we didn’t have to walk past it every day. Something changed irrevocably, in those few dark minutes James was submerged, as if the lack of oxygen had caused all our molecules to rearrange,” (page 79).

“Though the timeline is clear in my head, explaining it to someone else is a curious task, simple in theory but painstaking in practice, like assembling a long line of dominoes. One event inevitably leads to the next,” (page 145).

“I gaze across the lake at the top of the Tower. A large bird—a hawk, maybe—soars in long lazy circles over the trees, an elegant black boomerang against the silvery sky,” (page 147).

“She folded her arms and said, ‘I’m going to bed unless you’ve got something to say.’

I didn’t. I desperately wanted to, but my mind was blank. For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me,” (page 211).

“‘Anything can feel like punishment if it’s taught poorly,'” (page 267).

“I shifted and my shoes squeaked on the mirror, James turned and caught my eye. But I stayed where I was, afraid to move toward him, afraid I might lose my footing on solid ground, detach from what had anchored me before and drift out into the void of space—a vagabond, wandering moon,” (page 305).


My boyfriend bought me this book for my anniversary and I don’t think he could have done a better job. Usually he’ll buy a book I’ve talked about, but this time he decided to find something new and I was pretty impressed by his choice. I’ve read quite a few Shakespeare plays, although I’m no expert by any means, so he figured I’d enjoy the way Rio integrates lines from various plays into the text. He was very right.

From the very beginning, I was hooked. From the way the characters use Shakespeare’s words in their everyday conversations to the fast-paced plot, I couldn’t stop reading. The characters are witty and fun to follow, but also extremely intelligent and cunning. In addition, their use of conversational Shakespeare not only helped characterize them, but it was incredibly fun to read. And again, the book overall is M.L. Rio’s tribute to Shakespeare, so expect to see lots of lines, quotes, and small easter eggs throughout the story. However, if you’re not a Shakespeare buff, don’t worry. I think as long as you’re willing to step into the minds the young actors you can catch on fairly quickly.

I appreciated the extent Rio characterizes her leading characters. There were a few I thought remained somewhat underdeveloped, but the majority of the characters are distinctly illustrated from their physicality to their innermost thoughts. The book is narrated by Oliver which only gives us a narrow perspective, but there are many ways in which we are able to get a deeper look at the other characters’ fears and motivations. Oliver himself is at times mysterious in his intentions, but overall he’s an insightful narrator as he’s the most removed from the group of friends.

This last semester I took my first fiction writing course as I’m an English major (and in the Dual-Degree Teaching Program at my university) with an emphasis on Creative Writing. The reason I mention my class is because I noticed myself reading this book through the lens of someone who wants to be a writer. My professor consistently advised us that when we read books we should search for what appeals to us and what doesn’t because it can be extremely useful when we begin writing. While I was reading If We Were Villains I couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful metaphors. I included a couple of ones I loved in the memorable quotes section, but there were so many gorgeous lines scattered throughout the book. M.L. Rio’s writing is not only very meticulous and engaging to read, but her way of describing landscapes and characters is very three-dimensional. I could see the lake at the school and the characters seemed to jump off the page.

To sum it up, this book was a joy to read. When I thought I knew where the plot was going it twisted and kept me reading. I became invested in the characters, and I grew to love theatre even more with each page. The book hits so many marks because it’s hard to write a great plot with quality writing, but Rio checked off every box.

Extra Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, I’ve included a link to her website and Goodreads page below.