This book is a difficult one to review. I liked many things about it, first and foremost the story, which is based on a true tragedy.
In March 1885 in Richmond, Virginia, the body of a young pregnant woman is found floating in a reservoir. The back of her head is injured and the weather is quite cold. Many remark how angelic she looks and there is an uproar to learn who is responsible for such a horrid crime. Surely she couldn't have committed suicide. This much of the story is true, according to news reports and other documents of the time.
Thompson found the story fascinating and proceeded to research it. Having learned everything he could, he then wrote this novel with some real characters and others fictional. He invented a love triangle, an extended family, and perhaps the killer. The problem is the main character, Tommie Cluverius, and his mind. The victim is his young cousin who had been raped by her father and then went to live with her aunt, the same aunt who has raised Tommie and his brother Willie. This is the dysfunctional family from hell, but Aunt Jane is a good woman who loves all three and does her best by them.
These are classic characters and I think perhaps that fact is what bothered me as I read. One is a simple good man, one is ambitious and willing to do anything to make his dreams come true. Lillie, the victim, is pretty and a handful who is doomed to trouble. Her father is mean through and through. The women are stereotypical for 1885, and so are many of the men.
You can't help reading with bated breath, however, because you can't make up your mind about Tommie. He is like a Jekyll and Hyde person. Which one is the real Tommie? Even though you know from the beginning that Lillie is the woman found in the reservoir, you keep going back and forth about how and why she died.
I enjoyed seeing postwar Richmond depicted so well and how the burning of the city affected 1885 life there. The setting is one of the best things about this book, along with the terrible situation of an unmarried pregnant woman in those days. I recommend reading The Reservoir because the problems with the book aren't worth denying yourself the pleasure of the story. I also recommend a box of tissues nearby.