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Book Review of: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

We highly recommend Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

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Review of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt.

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola

This book was a gift to me from an organization whose conference I spoke at in Savannah, GA. At first glance, I thought it was fiction. It wasn't. I had to keep reminding myself of this as I read. What a fascinating story! Imagine being tried for murder four times--for the same killing. That's what Jim Williams endured for nearly a decade--including eight years of prison until his final trial.

The characters in this account of a landmark murder case are real, but most are so eccentric that they seem like actors in a Monty Python skit. Berendt caught all the colorful details for the reader. As usual in America, justice is hard to get. In Williams' case, his personal proclivities made it impossible for him to get a fair trial in Savannah.

The personalities include a black pre-op transexual drag queen (who later went on to become a minor celebrity), a young redneck testosterone-soaked bisexual gigolo (who was murdered), a voodoo priestess, a piano-playing con artist attorney who doesn't pay his bills, a glory-seeking political schemer, a grossly incompetent and dishonest District Attorney, and other people who aren't exactly normal.

You can think of this book as a "true crime" story--with much of the crime actually being in the legal system. It's a riveting, and sometimes hilarious, page-turner. It takes you inside the various hidden agendas, secret attacks, oddball alliances, and crafty schemes that occupy the minds of people in a town where secrets are well-known and everyone knows everyone else's business.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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