The Reservoir

Written by John Milliken Thompson
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Based upon an old Richmond, Virginia court case, The Reservoir is a complex first novel that is a simmering blend of Southern tragedy, a love triangle, coming-of-age story, and crime saga. In post-Reconstruction Richmond, the body of a young, pregnant woman is discovered in the town reservoir. An investigation ensues and inevitably focuses on an ambitious young lawyer, Tommie Cluverius, one of two men (the other being his brother Willie) who loved the murdered Lillie.

To the author’s credit, Thompson handily captures the lush and steamy sense of dark secrets kept by families of the South. This is a chilling study of imperfect personalities, human frailty, and crime, circa 1885. One can’t help being drawn to the promises offered by such a tale. However, a wandering omniscient perspective often feels out of control, forcing the reader to filter information through dozens of characters, some of whom are such minor actors in the drama that they distract from and slow down the development of the main plot. In addition, the author alternates between third and first person, and employs both present and past tenses in telling the story, resulting in a confusing narrative style and action that’s sometimes difficult to follow. One longs for a single strong and appealing character with whom to share the journey and a little better handling of narrative skills.