John Berendt's "Midnight" Wows as a Metabook

More than two decades ago, John Berendt's best-selling true-crime book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, about the Jim Williams murder trials put Savannah on the map as a tourist destination.  

Midnight spent a record-breaking 216 weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list and was a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. 

Being from New Orleans, I loved the romantic descriptions of Savannah because of the similarities to my home.  In addition, the oddball characters just warmed my heart. 

This new version of Midnight is now available on the digital book app Metabook and contains multimedia features including an audio book with Laverne Cox as the voice of Lady Chablis, crime scene photographs with Berendt's commentary, audio recordings of interviews with Jim Williams, a timeline of the four murder trials and photos of the people and places mentioned in the book. 

On Thursday, thanks to Atlanta History Center in conjunction with Decatur Book Festival, Berendt spoke at the Margaret Mitchell House about the new version of his book. He was joined on a panel by moderator Richard Eldredge of Atlanta Magazine, audio director Robin Miles and creative director Benjamin Alfonsi. 
Benjamin Alfonsi, creative director of Metabook and creator of the app, said, "We wanted to launch with a book that was known and beloved and few books are as known or as beloved as Midnight."  They plan to produce a second non-fiction Metabook by a famous American author soon, augmented again with a tremendous volume of authentic source material.  

In addition to being a runaway bestseller, Midnight was made into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood and is currently being adapted for Broadway. It spawned several Midnight book tours in Savannah that take fans to places mentioned in the book, like Mercer House and Bonaventure Cemetery. The Bird Girl sculpture on the book's cover became so famous that it was moved from the cemetery to Telfair Museum.  

Richard Eldridge asked John Berendt which of the multimedia features he was  most excited for people to see and experience with Midnight as a Metabook.  Berendt said, "Anything that satisfies their curiosity. I didn't allow photographs in the book originally. I wanted the readers' minds to have images that I created through my narrative prose. That was 20 years ago. Now, the reading public has more expectations and more demands. One thing I decided to do was include some of the taped interviews I did while writing the book. They're fragments, but you hear Jim Williams' voice, either talking to me or Danny Handsford (whom Williams was accused of murdering). And that's important when you want to know more about the characters that you can't get in the regular book." 
When asked about the movie adaptation, Berendt replied, "Kevin Spacey played Jim Williams -- badly. He didn't even come close. I had offered (Spacey) recordings so he could to listen to Jim Williams talking to me, regaling me with stories while sitting in his living room in Mercer House. (Spacey) said he'd already heard Williams on tape talking during one of his trials. But when I saw the movie, I was perplexed by the way Spacey portrayed Williams, because he did it as if he were asleep. He talked as if he were in a fog or sleepwalking. Then I realized what had happened, and I thought it was hilariously funny. If he had listened to the trials, he had very likely listened to the third trial. (By the third trial, Williams had been tried once, convicted and released on appeal. That conviction was overturned, so he was tried a second time, convicted again and sent to jail for two years. That second conviction was overturned again and he was tried ... again.) This time his lawyer said to him, "Jim, for God's sake, cool it. Don't be so arrogant when you're being cross-examined. The jury doesn't take kindly to your anger." So before being cross-examined, I asked him if he was going to be able to cool it, and he said he didn't know. Then he went over the water fountain with a Valium in his hand. That, I think, is the tape that Kevin Spacey must have listened to. Spacey is a terrific mimic. He was mimicking Jim Williams on drugs."

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Attendees enjoy a selection of beverages.
Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
John Berendt signs the book that made him a household name.

Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
 Daren Wang founder of AJC Decatur Book Festival chats with F. Sheffield president and CEO of
the Atlanta History Center.
Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
John Berendt listens to questions asked by panel moderator Rich Eldridge of Atlanta Magazine.
Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
John Berendt answers entertain panel moderator Rich Eldridge of Atlanta Magazine.
Photography by Bonnie M. Morét
Benjamin Alfonsi, creative director of Metabook listens to Robin Miles, artistic director of Metabook, as she explains the process used to bring the characters to life. John Berendt and Rich Eldridge are seated to her right.

For more information about the Midnight Metabook, visit

For more information about Margaret Mitchell House or Atlanta History Center, visit



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Bonnie Morét is an award-winning photographer recognized by The Georgia Council of the Arts as "an exceptional representation of contemporary Georgia art work." Her photography is featured on Georgia Public Broadcast's Georgia Traveler. Her exhibitions include Fifth Annual Exposure Awards at Musee du Louvre in Paris, France, Art Takes Miami at Scope Art during Art Basel Miami, Metro Montage XIII at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, World of Water at the Georgia Aquarium, Open Walls at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Wholly Georgia: A Look at the Effects of Southern Religious Culture, sponsored by the Art History League and Georgia State University, at Mint Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, 6x6 at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center in Rochester, New York, @Phonography: Dialogue in the Wireless Age, at 3 Ring Circus in New Orleans, Louisiana, and About Lands and Lives of the Civil War at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. Her photography appears in Modern Luxury/The Atlantan, Jezebel Magazine, and hangs in the executive offices at the Georgia State Capitol as part of the Art of Georgia exhibit. Corporate clients include Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta History Center, Chanel Cosmetics, Christian Dior Cosmetics, Sharp Mountain Vineyards, PM Realty Group, Granite Properties, Road Atlanta, Patrón Tequila, StubHub, CBM Records and The Washington Auto Show.