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The Reservoir Kindle Edition

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Length: 365 pages
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On an early spring morning in Richmond, Virginia, in the year 1885, a young pregnant woman is found floating in the city reservoir. It appears that she has committed suicide, but there are curious clues at the scene that suggest foul play. The case attracts local attention, and an eccentric group of men collaborate to solve the crime. Detective Jack Wren lurks in the shadows, weaseling his way into the investigation and intimidating witnesses. Policeman Daniel Cincinnatus Richardson, on the brink of retirement, catches the case and relentlessly pursues it to its sorrowful conclusion. As the identity of the girl, Lillie, is revealed, her dark family history comes to light, and the investigation focuses on her tumultuous affair with Tommie Cluverius.
   Tommie, an ambitious young lawyer, is the pride and joy of his family and the polar opposite of his brother Willie, a quiet, humble farmer. Though both men loved Lillie, it’s Tommie’s reckless affair that thrusts his family into the spotlight. With Lillie dead, Willie must decide how far to trust Tommie, and whether he ever understood him at all. Told through accumulating revelations, Tommie’s story finally ends in a riveting courtroom
   Based on a true story, The Reservoir centers on a guilty and passionate love triangle composed of two very different brothers and one young, naive girl hiding an unspeakable secret. A novel of lust, betrayal, justice, and revenge, The Reservoir ultimately probes the question of whether we can really know the hearts and minds of others, even of those closest to us.

A Conversation with John Milliken Thompson.
Q: How did you come across Commonwealth v. Cluverius, the case that would form the basis for The Reservoir? When did you decide that it would be a great subject for a novel?
A: I'd been intrigued with Richmond for some time, so I went there looking for a story from its rich past, imagining that the Civil War and earlier periods would be the most fruitful. Looking in Virginius Dabney's history of the city, I read a paragraph on the case that caught my interest. The more I dug into the case and the period, the more fascinated I became. Transported back in time, I wanted to bring readers along for the ride. My original idea was to write a non-fiction book that would present the courtroom drama and the psychologies of the main characters. After a few months, however, I decided that fiction was the only way I could really understand the characters and their motivations.

Q: How do you feel about the character of Tommie? Are you convinced of his guilt or innocence?
A: Tommie intrigued me from the start. Here you have a smart, well-spoken young man with a lot of potential to do great things, or at least to live comfortably and become a pillar of his community. He yields to temptation, as we all do from time to time, and then compounds his mistake by not owning up to it and confronting it head on. I think what makes his case different from the murder-of-the-week that we see all the time on TV is that he is himself unsure of his own guilt. The mystery of this whodunit lies in discovering what "it" is and why it was done. It's clear early on that Tommie is guilty of something--we try to discover what that is by peeling back the layers of his complex personality. The final layer is the puzzling and mysterious nature of history, which can only be told by the survivors.

Q: How did writing historical fiction differ from your previous experiences writing nonfiction? Did you draw inspiration from any other fiction writers?
A: This book has been the most absorbing and satisfying writing experience of my life. Writing nonfiction taught me how to do the kind of research I needed for The Reservoir, and it got me interested in American history. The challenges of fiction are very different--having the story rely far more on one's imagination than on the facts is both freeing and terrifying.

Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment was an early favorite book of mine. You can't read something that intellectually compelling without coming away inspired, influenced, and changed. Both Raskolnikov and Tommie think themselves extraordinary people, but where Raskolnikov is driven by an idea, Tommie is possessed by desire. Dreiser's An American Tragedy was a huge help as I tried to figure out how to transform a true story into a novel. He created a masterpiece that at the time was criticized for being too long and having a protagonist who was too ineffectual. I wanted to avoid those issues, while creating something original. I was able to keep the length down by assuming--thanks to television--an audience familiarity with police procedures and courtroom business, except where local and historical details differed from today. Other influential writers, for various reasons, include Fitzgerald, Keats, Capote, D. H. Lawrence, Styron, and Robert Penn Warren, to name a few.

Q: As a lifelong Southerner, how important was it for you to convey a sense of place in the novel?
A: Geography has always mattered to me, and I think it would no matter where I was from. Landscape and history are inseparable--a sense of place only deepens the field on which your characters go about their lives and struggles.

Q: The novel is set in 1885, about twenty years after the end of the Civil War. How do you think this impacts the atmosphere of the novel?
A: The war is a nearly constant background noise in this novel. Tommie's generation is the new, postwar generation, but for the older folks--his parents, the lawyers, and many others--the war was the defining historical event of their times; the war shaped who they were in the 1880s. Richmond was in ruins after the Civil War; two decades later it has begun to emerge again as a major industrial and economic center. But, it would be many more years before the Confederate capital could claim identity as something more than a proud loser. That explains to a large degree why this trial and the way it was prosecuted and reported were so important to the locals.

Q: How long did it take you to write The Reservoir?
A: The short answer is three years, including a number of revisions. The long answer is that it took about twenty-four years. That's how long I'd been writing fiction up to that point. I wrote several books that didn't pan out, but all that time and effort were not a waste--when I finally came upon the right story at the right time, I had enough experience and patience to see it through.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm very excited about my new novel-in-progress. It's set a little farther south and a little later in time--I'm finding the turn-of-the-century period won't let me go. It's a transitional time, when things were unsettled and uncertain. The main character is a girl who grows up in a large family and endures some very hard events; there's some comic relief, though the main tone right now is elegiac.


“Solidly entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

“An engaging mystery novel rendered as Southern literature.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Historian and debut novelist Thompson mined a treasure trove of documents and background detail for this novel, based on an actual murder and trial set in 1880s Richmond, VA…Thompson masterfully illustrates how a seemingly clear-cut case can be filled with ambiguities.” —Library Journal

“Gorgeously suffused with the feel of 1880s Virginia, The Reservoir is not a whodunit but, even better, a did-he-do-it... John Milliken Thompson’s debut is an all-too-human and unforgettable puzzle, rendered in haunting shades of gray.” —Holly LeCraw, author of The Swimming Pool
“It is the way people think and feel that creates the plot for this book … the characters are absolutely right from start to finish.” —Joanne Greenberg, author of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

“Impressive… Even though the story takes place in Richmond, Virginia about twenty years after the Civil War ended, there was a sense of urgency on my part to get to the book’s conclusion. In other words, whenever I had to put the book down due to eyes that simply could no longer remain open, I looked forward to the moment that I could get back to this intriguing tale.” —Carol Hoenig, The Huffington Post

Product Details

  • File Size: 610 KB
  • Print Length: 365 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1590514440
  • Publisher: Other Press (June 21, 2011)
  • Publication Date: June 21, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004EBT6LU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #502,585 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Reservoir is a novel of psychological suspense flavored with a bit of courtroom drama rather than a conventional murder mystery. The opening pages describe Tommie Cluverius standing on an embankment atop a reservoir in Richmond, Virginia, looking down at Lillian's pregnant, floating body. The unsettled question is whether Tommie killed Lillian and, if so, why? John Milliken Thompson's novel is based on historical fact -- Lillian died in 1885 and Tommie became the defendant in a murder trial -- but what actually happened at the reservoir is the subject of Thompson's informed conjecture.

For most of the novel (maybe for the entire novel), whether Tommie killed Lillian remains an open question. As envisioned by Thompson, Tommie isn't the kind of person who commits murder. Since there were no witnesses to Lillian's real-world death, it's possible she went to the reservoir alone and committed suicide (although footprints suggested the presence of another). In Thompson's version of Lillian's death, Tommie is with her at the reservoir. Their relationship is not a happy one, a fact that could motivate suicide or homicide. Whether or not he killed her, Thompson imagines Tommie's understandable regret about the role he played in Lillian's life. As Tommie explains it to his brother in one of the novel's telling passages: "There's strange things that happen in the world sometimes, I've come to understand that, and they don't fit in with the rest of our lives. These things, they're like a burl in a tree, Willie -- they don't belong there." Tommie sees himself as a victim of fate, yet the novel repeatedly makes the point that people make choices and that bad choices lead to bad consequences, however unintended a particular consequence might be.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Crays on January 3, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Reservoir is a novel based on a real court case of a murder of a young pregnant woman in the 1880s. The author apparently did a great deal of research on the case.

The main character is Tommie Cluverius the presumed killer and much of the book is from Tommie's point of view. The story switches back and forth between the trial in the "present" time and the past which leads up to the trial.

I think the author does a very good job of depicting Tommie's personality. I don't usually care if the main character of a novel is likeable, but Tommie really turned me off due to the way he treated women. Thus I didn't care if he was found guilty or not. Perhaps it would have been better from the point of view of another character, such as his older brother.

I found the book unsurprising and not particularly engaging, because from the beginning we learn who the killer probably is. Occasionally I thought a twist might come near the end and surprise me, but for the most part the story just plodded on to the inevitable ending.

I think the descriptions of the rural areas and city were quite good. Furthermore, I think the book painted a good picture of the way men often behaved with respect to women and how many women kowtowed to men in those days.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By TrishNYC VINE VOICE on August 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
From the outset Tommie Cluverius is the one and only suspect in the death of Lillie Madison. Lillie's body had been found at the reservoir and though it had at first seemed like suicide, it becomes clear that there is bigger story to the dead body. The police investigate and soon find that Lillie had been seen at a hotel with a young man. This, in addition to the fact that Lillie was pregnant make the police abandon the idea of suicide. Tommie soon becomes a suspect and through flashbacks, we discover the relationship between Lillie, Tommie, his brother Willie and Tommie's fiancee Nola.

Lillie had been Willie's friend long before she was Tommie's. They had met when they were kids and Willie and Lillie seemed to have a special friendship which Tommie is immediately jealous of. But somehow, Tommie and Lillie also become friends, a friendship still overshadowed by her relationship with Willie. As they grow into teenagers, Lillie and Willie are still skirting the outskirts of a full fledged romance but this fact does not stop Tommie from beginning secret meetings with Lillie. Eventually he and Lillie also begin a relationship but one that Tommie insist they keep secret. In the meantime, he becomes engaged to Nola. He claims to love Lillie, sleeps with her regularly but when she asks him about the future of their relationship, he hedges and makes excuses. Lillie is frustrated by it but hangs on. It seemed like once Tommie had Lillie's love, he no longer felt the need to try and please her as much as he had in the past. Also Tommie is ambitious, Nola is the heir to a vast fortune and he cannot see himself passing on the possibilities her money and connections can bring him.

They continue in this back and forth until Lillie gets pregnant and begins to pressure Tommie.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Barbarino VINE VOICE on May 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a bit of a twist on the murder mystery. The first chapter opens on a pregnant Lillie Walker's dead body floating in the reservoir, then a few pages later we are taken back to the previous evening. Tommie Culverius is looking down on her in the water trying to puzzle out what to do with her hat and gloves.

I thought I knew what happened, it seemed obvious, but then John Milliken Thompson made the straight-forward a bit more complicated and gave Tommie Culverius a voice to tell the reader exactly what happened when he and Lillie went to the reservoir.

There were several things that made this story compelling, the first being the relationships between Tommie, Lillie and Tommie's older brother, Willie. Even while I thought I knew what happened to Lillie I still wanted to know why? What happened between Tommie and Lillie that resulted in her dead body being dragged from the reservoir? What were their true feelings for each other? Were Tommie and Willie both guilty of Lillie's death? Once Tommie was taken into questioning the story took on another level of suspense and uncertainty and the question became, not only was he guilty but would he be found guilty? Then other questions followed, Would he be sentenced to death? What if he was innocent? Was there evidence out there or an eye witness who could exonerate him? All of those questions kept me reading, as did my concern for these characters, even more so because they were based on real people.

I want to quote a favorite passage from the book, forgive me if it's overly long.
(Charles was Tommie and Willie's brother who drowned when they were young.
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