03/22/2011 03:03 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An Unsolved Mystery Inspires The Reservoir

It seems that most fiction is usually inspired by someone's reality. I thought about this while reading John Milliken Thompson's forthcoming and impressive first novel, The Reservoir. 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. What made it so absorbing was that The Reservoir started out to be a work of non-fiction, the author researching an actual court case about a young pregnant woman who was murdered. Or was she? Perhaps it was suicide, but we'll never know for sure, while this work of fiction helps us explore the possibilities.

I'm sure that there are dozens of court cases from long ago and not so long ago that could be springboards for fascinating novels, but as I kept reading this particular one where many of the characters are based on real people, it was as though the author, giving himself literary license to go into these characters' minds, was putting together a puzzle for the reader, which made this book a page turner for me. However, that's not to say that at times I didn't find myself exasperated by the journey I was being taken on, but I'm guessing the author, too, in his research, became exasperated: did this young, unmarried, pregnant woman kill herself out of desperation or did the young man, who considered her tempting, kill her in order to protect his good standing in the community? Or, was there something else, something even more sinister at play? Unfortunately, these are part of the missing pieces in the real story, and even though Thompson has maintained the sense of time and place by the descriptions of what people wore, along with the way they spoke, what really happened then will quite likely forever remain a mystery. Yet, I didn't want the story to end -- at least not in the way it ended.
To my delight, however, I discovered that on the author's website there are copies of newspaper articles about the crime (accident?) as well as pictures of some of the pieces of evidence from the court case.

Either way, we'll never know just who was wronged back then, but it's quite likely that I would have never heard of Tommie Cluverius, Lillian Madison or any of the others who were actual people involved in a gruesome situation had the author not taken a piece of history and written what is sure to be a riveting topic of conversation.