I was first introduced to John Berendt‘s work as an author when I saw the movie based on based on his earlier book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997). The book that forms prompted the screenplay for that movie was Berendt‘s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story. Based on the eccentric characters of the movie Midnight, along with the suspense of the underlying mystery with the city as a strong central character, I was intrigued to get to know a different story as observed and told by John Berendt that would have me as intrigued.
Walking the shelves of a local independent bookseller last fall, I struck upon Berendt‘s The City of Falling Angels, which came out roughly 11-years after the first. This book reflects not a case of suspected murder with different classes of the city of Savannah, Georgia, but instead it focused on the fire that gutted the opera house Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy. The city, its people, the stage that the city is for people that live here and visit were all put under a review that in part felt like tabloid tale and part investigative travelogue.
(Teatro La Fenice)
The concept of Venice, its history, and efforts that many have undertaken to maintain the antiquities of the city was a large theme underpinning the story of Midnight. Additionally there was the story of the fire and the assignment of cause and culpability. There too was the story of the papers of expatriate authors that lived in Venice, including the intrigue surrounding possession of the papers once he had died. Tales of property holders, conservators of fundraising organizations intent of preserving art and architecture in Venice, and even the death of a homosexual poet in the city all were scrutinized into a large focal point on the character of Venice as tied together by an American that visited, interviewed, and observed over a period of months extending into parts of multiple years.
Berendt worked at his craft not so much as a police detective, an art historian, or a mystery writer as much as he aimed to tell the story of a city from a few interesting mysteries tied together to show the mask and intrigue underlying how the city of Venice functioned with eccentricities and eccentrics. The basic formula that applied in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story were applied to The City of Falling Angels, but for the mystery being a question of arson, who benefited, and why. Add a similarly strong sense of local color and random unrelated history.
In all honesty, I never read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story while having only seen the movie that was later based on it. I found much of the conjecture in The City of Falling Angels interesting, though I do not find a great desire to go back and read the first book after having read the second. The City of Falling Angels follows a similar formula and premise as the first movie (and presumably book). It feels like the second suffers from using the same premises again.
Another way of saying the last paragraph is that the problem of sequels applies. You lose your audience when you perform the same notion more than once, even if the story deals with different subject matter. For The City of Falling Angels, my rating is 3.0-stars out of 5.0-stars.
Matt – Sunday, February 18, 2018