The Reservoir, by John Milliken Thompson – Book Review

In The Reservoirs (John Milliken Thompson) opening scenes of March 14, 1885, Lillian Madison, a young pregnant woman, is found drowned in the reservoir of Richmond, Virginia. The night before, her cousin Tommie Cluverius, an up-and-coming attorney, is shown leaving the scene, discarding clothing and other items along the way. He does his best to establish an alibi and cover story for mysterious scratches on his hand before returning home to neighboring King and Queen County. Though the death is first thought a suicide, it doesn’t take long before Richmond police journey to Tommie’s home to make an arrest once discovering the cousins were also lovers.

I experienced a failure to launch with this novel, which surprised me because usually a novel like this fits all of my criteria for an absorbing read. Among the things that initially appealed to me were the historical time period, Gothic elements, doomed love triangle and that it’s based on real events. My main point of contention is just how long it took for me to get into the story. It’s slow going in the beginning, and hindered by an incredibly long cast of characters from the people who discovered the body, the investigators, law enforcement in two towns, in addition to to Tommie, Willie, their parents and Aunt Jane and Lillian. The story flits back and forth between the developing relationships between Willie, Lillian, Tommie and Tommie’s fiancé, Nola Bray.  The relationship angle is accompanied by an underlying theme of responsibility – for the drowning death of Tommie and Willie’s younger brother Charles. There was something about the writing that created distance from the characters.  I was never able to bridge that gap enough to care enough about many of them.

About a hundred pages in, I did become more engaged in the story. The tension is in whether Tommie actually committed murder. There is ample feeling and characterization to suggest he was calculating enough about his career and marriage into wealth tohave killed his poor relation. This pregnancy would have surely interfered with his prospects. While the story is a sad one, it’s also a familiar one and nothing in it particularly surprised me. Milliken Thompson does a good job of portraying the time and the history of old Virginia, and The Reservoir will appeal to those interested in period dramas, especially those set in 19th century Virginia.

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  1. I’m attracted to the fact that this is sort of true crime, but Jen had the same problem I think with the slow start. THat is too bad because most people would not have endured a hundred pages of it.

    1. You might really like it. Most people have really loved it, but I think the slow start was the kiss of death for me. After that I just was never able to really get into it.

  2. I’ve had this on my radar for a while, but a slow start will usually cause me to abandon a book. I’m quite intrigued by the story’s premise and maybe I’ll pick it up during the winter months and give it a go.

  3. I had a similar reaction to Miss Timmin’s School for Girls. It took an absurdly long time for me to get into the book, and then there were just too many characters in the story for things to move smoothly. At least this one grew on you, and you eventually got into it. I never did with Miss Timmin’s. Sometimes when this happens to me, I am afraid to give up on the book because it may turn itself around and be stellar by the ending, but too often, this doesn’t happen. I liked your balanced and honest thoughts on this one.

  4. This looks so good but the long launch period and the big cast of characters discourage me. Too many characters and I do a lot of backtracking trying to follow each of them….

  5. I had an issue with the beginning too. Ultimately, I was confused, not knowing who was whom and what the hell was going on. Luckily, it didn’t last long though, and I ended up loving The Reservoir!

  6. I actually found the beginning more interesting than the ending. However, I did struggle with an inability to relate to any of the characters. I found it was way too easy to stay distanced from the entire cast of characters, thereby making it easy to not get as involved as I might have liked. Still, I really loved how realistic the story was, with no pat ending or neatly tied resolutions. I also loved the picture of post-war Richmond. It was a fascinating period, and I felt Thompson did a great job of researching it and presenting it to the reader.

  7. Too bad the book wasn’t better. I really loved the sound of the book from watching the book trailer. I guess it just goes to show you how deceiving those book “commercials” can be!

  8. I had the same problem until about a third of the way through the book. There’s a lot to love but a little bit that had me turned off at the start. I’m pumped for the discussion, tomorrow, though!