This novel is smart, beautifully written, honest, moving. I’m sure I cannot do it justice, but here is my attempt: Mary Bet Hartsoe, the protagonist of John Milliken Thompson’s new novel Love and Lament, is a character of such intelligent and curious sensibility I would follow her anywhere. And I did, and so will you as she takes us through some of the most turbulent times in our history while negotiating, with integrity and grace, the brittle demands of family and community.

Michael Parker, author of The Watery Part of the World

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Love and Lament is an ambitious and exhilarating novel of the South at the turn of the last century. It is a book you’ll devour and savor. It will remind you why you started reading novels in the first place–to be enchanted, to be carried away from your world and dropped into a world more substantial and incandescent. John Milliken Thompson knows that every story is many stories, and he handles this complex tale of romance, family, race relations, and secrets with intelligence, grace, and tenderness. He has breathed life into Mary Bet Hartsoe and her benighted family, and they will breathe life into you.

John Dufresne, author of No Regrets and Coyote

In Love and Lament, John Milliken Thompson binds together the best of the southern gothic tradition of William Faulkner and postmodern studies of human character and psyche like Joanna Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

Shelf Awareness

An appealing historical novel that blends gothic and plainly romantic themes.

Kirkus Reviews

John Milliken Thompson’s Love and Lament is a sweeping novel that gets everything right—the details, the panorama—but mainly it allows you to experience the life of another time, about a hundred years ago, in the soul and mind of a young woman whose passions and worries could be your own. In other words, Thompson makes that art form called the novel do the work it is meant to do—thoroughly and beautifully.

Clyde Edgerton, author of The Night Train and Walking Across Egypt

Mary Bet Hartsoe is tough, humble, independent, and enduring—a true North Carolina heroine. . . . Thompson perfectly captures the Carolina Piedmont’s sight, sounds, and flavors and convincingly depicts the turn-of-the-century South.

Publishers Weekly

Love and Lament is a monument to memory in its most powerful comingling of past and present. . . . Thompson . . . seems to be a natural heir to that great Southern writer, [Eudora Welty].

The Daily Rumpus

Thompson’s Love and Lament offers us a young daughter of a still much-broken South, Mary Bet Hartsoe, as she witnesses the excesses of long-held jealousies, madness, religion and war, suffers the loss one after another of her family members, and yet marches on to become more than a woman of her time. Her story proves how the memory of loss is itself more fearsome than death, and yet even this fear has its limits once Mary Bet’s future beckons her. It’s a wonderful journey to behold.

Michelle Hoover, author of The Quickening

If you live in the rural South, it is a rare delight to find a writer like John Milliken Thompson, who captures familiar landscapes with grace and freshness and also takes you so vividly and surprisingly into the past. But it’s his beautifully drawn, completely original characters—Mary bet, Cicero, Siler, Flora—who made me fall in love with this book, and who will appeal to readers everywhere.

Belle Boggs, author of Mattaponi Queen

In his new novel, John Milliken Thompson visits again the fertile ground that he explored so satisfyingly in The Reservoir: the South at the turn of the prior century; the trials of families under strain from within and without; and the mysterious relationships between good and evil, God and man. Love and Lament is a powerful book that you’ll not soon forget.

Jon Clinch, author of Finn and The Thief of Auschwitz

A seamlessly told and scrupulously detailed history of the Hartsoe clan of Haw County, North Carolina, Love and Lament is that rare novel that brings the gritty, rural past to vivid life. I could very nearly smell the moonshine (the moonshiners too!). Pass a few hours with Mary Bet Hartsoe and family. You won’t regret it.

T. R. Pearson, author of Jerusalem Gap and A Short History of a Small Place

good storytelling and poetic writing

Herald-Sun, Durham

Thompson recreates the years after the Civil War with breathtaking clarity; it’s a rare joy to sink into a novel and believe in it so completely. I rooted for Mary Bet, and worried over each step she took within a family that seemed mysteriously fated for disaster.

Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look

Love and Lament

Set in rural North Carolina between the late 1800s and World War I, Love and Lament chronicles the Hartsoe family’s extraordinary hardships and misfortunes.

Mary Bet, the youngest of eight children, was born the same year the first railroad arrived in their county. As she comes of age during the South’s reconstruction and industrialization, she must learn to overcome her family’s curse, including the death of her mother and multiple siblings, her father’s growing insanity and rejection of God, and dark family secrets that threaten her stability.

In the rich tradition of Southern literature, John Milliken Thompson transports the reader back in time through memorable characters, meticulous detail, and a voice that brings the past to vivid life.

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“[Thompson] does an outstanding job . . . This book will entertain readers with the quality of its writing, its true and intricate details of 1885 Richmond and its tale of . . . American tragedy.”

Free Lance-Star

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“an intoxicating tale of loyalty, betrayal and the enduring vagaries of the human heart”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“I couldn’t put this book down. The story, based on real events in 1883, is the murder of Lillie, who was eight months pregnant when she was found floating face up in Richmond, VA’s drinking water reservoir. Was it an accident, suicide or something more sinister? The author really captured the feeling of the time, but it was difficult to imagine that so many of the police proceedings and trial rulings are totally different from ours of today.”

Mary Kay Brunskill Cohen, Anderson’s Bookshop, Naperville, IL

“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

“This book defies categorization.  What begins as a mystery steadily becomes a study of one foolish young man’s inevitable meeting with his destiny.  Not much is likable about the main character as we come to know him in his youth; yet somehow, through the course of this cinematically portrayed novel, I was moved by him and cared about him. By the end, the reader is observing Everyman; the human condition just is–and redemption is possible.”

Laura DeVault, Over the Moon Bookstore, Crozet, VA

“Pitch-perfect to the post-Civil War era . . . This is an impressive first novel  . . . hurtling toward greatness as an artful vehicle for grappling with temptations and the ambiguities of guilt. . . . The Reservoir gets stronger and richer as it rolls toward its startling climax.”

Jim Lynch, Washington Post

“Fans of courtroom drama, historical mysteries, and Southern gothic are sure to enjoy the tale which, even once the book is finished, will keep readers wondering about what happened at the reservoir.”

ForeWord Reviews

“In this compelling novel, this superb writer instructs and enchants.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch

“In The Reservoir, John Thompson has created historical fiction of the very highest quality: vivid in its period details, gripping in its drama. It’s a novel of the South that tells the reader that there is more to the culture, more to the history, than the Civil War.”

Christopher Tilghman, author of Mason’s Retreat

“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

“Thompson masterfully illustrates how a seemingly clear-cut case can be filled with ambiguities.”

 Library Journal

“. . . both an exciting and lyrical read–I couldn’t put it down–and raises interesting questions about guilt and justice and family bonds.”

Belle Boggs, author of Mattaponi Queen

“[an] astonishing novel”

Southern Literary Review

“Thompson . . . fleshes out the bones of an actual 1885 murder case in his solidly entertaining first novel.”

Publishers Weekly

“Southern Gothic gets a new twist in this true-life novel of crime and punishment in the heart of the fallen Confederacy. John Milliken Thompson stumbled upon a real-life case of long ago, re-created its world, and crafted a gripping tale. From the poignant puzzle brilliantly set out on the opening pages, The Reservoir plunges ever deeper into hidden depths of guilt and passion.”

Henry Wiencek, author of An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America

“A novel based on a true story that incorporates a bit of history and a touch of the Southern Gothic tradition … [Thompson] writes compellingly about the bond between Willie and Tommie, and his portrayal of the social mores of the post-Civil War South is believable … an engaging mystery novel.”

Kirkus Reviews

The Reservoir


“The way it floats in the water so serenely in the moonlight and the sunlight you would have thought it was meant to be there. Pure and unyielding and as solid as silk. She floats there, a mystery as deep as the moon and the mind of God. What does it mean? A pregnant girl floating in the city’s drinking water?”

On an early spring morning in Richmond, Virginia, in the year 1885, a young 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. 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 a cousin, Tommie Cluverius. Tommie, an ambitious young lawyer, is the polar opposite of his brother Willie, a quiet, humble farmer. Willie must now decide how far to trust Tommie, and whether he ever understood him at all. Told through accumulating revelations, Tommie’s story hurtles toward a riveting courtroom climax with a shocking conclusion.

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