Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is atmospheric and Southern Gothic in tone, depicting a wide range of eccentric Savannah personalities.
The action that serves as a catalyst in the book is the killing of Danny Hansford, a local hustler (characterized as "a good time not yet had by all") by respected art dealer Jim Williams. Four murder trials resulted, with the final one ending in acquittal after the judge finally agreed to having the case moved away from the Savannah jury pool. The book characterizes the killing as a murder. Hansford and Williams were linked sexually, but the exact nature of their relationship was unclear. The death took place in Williams's home, originally built by an ancestor of songwriter and Savannah native Johnny Mercer.
The book also highlights many other residents of Savannah, most notably The Lady Chablis, a local drag queen and entertainer. Chablis provides both a Greek chorus of sorts as well as a lighthearted contrast to the more serious action.
The book's plot is based on real-life events that occurred in the 1980s and is classified as nonfiction. Because it reads like a novel, it is sometimes referred to as a "nonfiction novel," a subgenre popularized by Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. (Booksellers generally feature the title in the "true crime" subsection.) It is among the most popular nonfiction releases of all time.
The title alludes to the hoodoo notion of "midnight"; the period between the time for good magic and the time for evil magic; in "the garden of good and evil," which refers principally to Bonaventure Cemetery.
The famous Bird Girl statue, originally designed both as art and as a birdseed holder, was originally located at Bonaventure. A Savannah photographer, Jack Leigh, was commissioned to take a photograph for the cover of the book and created his now famous photograph of the statue. The Bird Girl was relocated in 1997 for display in the Telfair Museum in Savannah.