Book Review: The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
In The Reservoir John Milliken Thompson dusts off an old Richmond murder case and with meticulous care and some gifted storytelling brings a tragic tale of more than a century ago to life. More than that, he brings a Richmond of long ago to life again. For a city that was once the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond has not held on to its past as vigorously as some southern cities. So, for the casual observer, it isn’t as apparent as it may be in places such as Charleston or Savannah, but Thompson proves that it lies just below the surface provided you know where to look.
The actual case, Cluverius vs. Commonwealth, involves the death of a young pregnant woman who was found drowned in the city reservoir near Hollywood Cemetery. At first glance her death was thought a suicide, then quickly thereafter decided a murder. Initially the young woman was unidentified, and in an attempt to discover who she was, the public was allowed to view the body in the hope she would be recognized. Once she is identified a web of gossip, conjecture and circumstantial evidence lead to the arrest of one man : her cousin, Thomas Cluverius.
Thompson makes use of meticulously kept trial artifacts, newspaper accounts and Cluverius’ own account of his arrest and trial to lay the framework of the novel. He then fills in the gaps of time and vague supposition with a rich back-story that gives each of these characters a fullness and depth that may have been lost in the hands of a lesser writer.
As a native Richmonder, I loved the references to places I’ve known all my life, but transformed through the mirror of time to more than a century before. However, that hometown frame of reference is not required in order to immerse yourself in both the time and setting of this well-crafted tale of tragic love, deception and desperation.
Review by Brenda Seward
A video about The Reservoir can be seen here:
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson , through Other Press is available now at Independent Bookstores everywhere and other retail outlets. It has already been chosen as a Summer 2011 Okra Pick by SIBA ( Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance).
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