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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson


I read this book because I am going to an event where the author will be next Monday (Bibliofeast! If you are in the Charlotte, NC area, please join us!) I was worried that it would be too similar to my last novel, Little Bird Of Heaven, as it seemed like an atmospheric story of a murder and its aftermath without being a mystery, but it was actually different enough. Largely because (and I'm not sure why but I didn't know this before I picked it up) it's set in the 1880s, and also because it had large elements of a legal novel.

The body of a pregnant young woman is pulled out of the Richmond reservoir one chilly morning, and once it is identified as Lillie from King and Queen County, her cousin and sometimes lover Tommie, is suspect pretty quickly. He's a lawyer, does travel to Richmond frequently, and was acting suspiciously. Through flashbacks we discover that it is definitely Lillie and Tommie was with her that nights, but we don't know exactly how or why. Tommie is arrested, and there is an extended trial, with appeals and other technical details.

To me The Reservoir read like an 1880s Scott Turow. In other words, a think reader's legal book. Thriller isn't the right word - it's much too languidly paced and meanders through the flashbacks too much to be considered anything like edge-of-the-seat writing, but like Turow, the legal intricacies and maneuverings felt very realistic and practical, and it was fascinating to see some of the differences in the last 130 years (for instance, Tommie is not allowed to testify in his own defense.) The background stuff was interesting, particularly as it related to Tommie and Willie's baby brother who died when they were all small children, but it didn't feel crucial. Personally, and this is an odd thing for me to say, I'd have rather have had more courtroom, and fewer flashbacks, but I didn't mind them.

I liked reading about an era that doesn't get much attention these days. The Civil War isn't too distant in the past, many of the older participants are veterans, and the locale being the former Confederate capitol, led to a bit of tension. But it was also interesting to see how much was the same. Women today can't hide a pregnancy until the 8th month under voluminous skirts (although some of the dingbats on I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant demonstrate it's not always so hard to hide a pregnancy even today!) but they do get into scrapes that can be hard to tell their parents and hard to resolve with their lovers, although hopefully they don't end in tragedy like Lillie's did.

1 comment:

Introverted Jen said...

I've been curious about this one. I think I would like it but I don't know when I'll ever get to it.