Savannah, Georgia is the oldest city in the Deep South; beautiful and unique it is full of neat squares, shaded cobblestone streets, parks, and historic buildings. But in the 1980’s the city was gripped by the events that happened in Savannah’s grandest mansion very late one night. Was the death of Danny Hansford, a male prostitute, murder or self-defence?
In this narrative, Berendt introduces us to the place that is Savannah, as well as the characters of the time that made this such an entertaining place to live. We meet the Lady Chablis, a transgender drag queen and dancer, Minerva the voodoo priestess, the well-heeled ladies of the Married Woman’s Card Club and the man at the focus of the story, Jim Williams. He was tried four times for the murder of Hansford, three times in the city before the final trial elsewhere in the state. Berendt builds a picture of the city as much as the people, and you get a sense of the magnificence of the houses and the people. He builds the tension magnificently, bringing to life the society that really didn’t know what to believe as the trials were underway. He highlights the undercurrent of tension between black and white, this is the deep south after all, and how Williams was able to move at all levels of society.
It is very well written and even though it isn’t far short of 400 pages, took very little time to read. I liked the way he wrote about the characters and made the city feel so real, but there were flaws. But even though it was non-fiction, I felt that there were too many embellishments and it felt more like fiction at times. It has made me want to visit the city though as it feels very atmospheric.