Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Reservoir

The plot of John Milliken Thompson’s debut novel, The Reservoir, reminded me in many ways of Theodore Dreiser’s classic An American Tragedy.  It is the same basic story: young woman from a common background finds herself pregnant by a young man of higher status and better prospects in a day during which abortion is highly dangerous, illegal, and usually not the first choice as a solution to the “problem.”  And, like Dreiser’s heroine, Lillie ends up dead at the hands of the man who supposedly loved her so much.

As it turns out, Thompson’s story is based on an actual event that occurred in Richmond, Virginia, in 1885.  Thompson, an historian and author of three nonfiction books, put his research skills to use in developing the basic plot of his first novel. But it is his skill in creating the unknown personal details and motivations of those involved in the case that makes this a very fine debut novel. 

When Lillie was found drowned in a Richmond city reservoir, all the evidence pointed toward suicide.  When it was discovered that the unmarried young woman was far along in a pregnancy, that ruling seemed even more certain.  Soon enough, however, evidence indicating that Lillie had not come to the reservoir alone was discovered – and, by the time her body had been identified, there was enough physical evidence to see investigators in search of her killer.

The Cluverious brothers, Tommie and Willie, could hardly be more different.  Willie is a quiet man who wants little more from life than to make a success of his farm; Tommie, on the other hand, has always been the ambitious one.  Neither of the brothers has yet achieved his goals, but  23-year-old Tommie is certainly heading in the right direction, having become associated with a respected Richmond law firm.  The one thing the brothers seem to have in common, other than their shared childhood, is their longtime infatuation with Lillie, a cousin of theirs.

John Milliken Thompson
The Reservoir combines common characteristics of historical fiction with those of a police procedural and a psychological crime novel.  Thompson tells Tommie’s story slowly and steadily, building toward a climax that, by its end, is not unexpected.  Along the way, the reader gets a good feel for the period and the methods then used by policemen and private detectives to solve a crime.  The times may have been simpler, but the case (and the main characters) will feel familiar to anyone that watches much of today’s tabloid television. 

John Milliken Thompson’s debut novel is a good one that should appeal to fans of historical fiction and crime fiction alike.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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