Tideline Cover

Penny Hancock

One winter's afternoon, Sonia opens the door of her beautiful riverside home to fifteen-year-old Jez, the nephew of a family friend. He's come to borrow some music. Sonia invites him in and soon decides that she isn't going to let him leave. As Sonia's desire to keep Jez hidden and protected from the outside world becomes all the more overpowering, she is haunted by memories of an intense teenage relationship, which gradually reveal a terrifying truth. The River House, Sonia's home since childhood, holds secrets within its walls. And outside, on the shores of the Thames, new ones are coming in on the tide...

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Returning to the river


Richard: Another debut writer for the Richard and Judy Summer reads – and another stunning first-time novel. Tideline is a weird, kinky, sexual story about obsession and descent into madness.

Sonia is a what the French would describe as a woman of a certain age. She is attractive, prosperous, and outwardly perfectly normal. She leads a respectable, quiet life in her beautiful home by the Thames. She inherited The River House from her parents. It is rambling, comfortable, and enjoys stunning views. It also keeps a very nasty secret.

Sonia’s husband Greg is away and she is alone – until Jez drops by. Jez is fifteen. At a recent party at his parents’ house, Greg told Jez he owns a rare pop album. The boy, a huge fan of the artist, has come round to borrow it.

It is probably the worst decision of his life.

Sonia invites him inside and almost immediately, compulsively, tries to get the boy drunk. She offers him wine and when his back is turned, spikes it with whisky. She is overwhelmed by his presence: she thinks he is physically perfect – handsome, strong, masculine, and charming. And he reminds her of someone she once knew, many years before. Someone called Seb. Now slightly drunk herself, she tries to persuade Jez to stay.

‘It’s OK, Seb. You don’t have to go.’



‘My name. Jez, not Seb.’

Which really is the point he should have left.

Judy: This is truly sinister story, slightly reminiscent of Steven King’s Misery. Like the writer’s jailor in that story, Sonia is deeply disturbed. But no-one realises it; not her husband, not her daughter, Kit (currently away from home, like her father) and not Jez’s parents, who are friends of the family.

Even Jez fails to spot the warning signs. Having rendered him incapable with spiked drinks, Sonia insists he spend the night in the spare room. He passes out as she tucks him in and we have our first seriously disturbing moment: Sonia fantasises about undressing him before bending over and passing her nose over his head and neck. She spots a love bite from his girlfriend and kisses it, whispering: ‘It’s OK. I’ll keep you safe, I promise.’

And that’s just Chapter One.

Penny Hancock writes brilliantly about sexual obsession and repressed guilt. Seb, the boy Jez so resembles and who Sonia once loved, is a constant presence in The River House and in Sonia’s tortured mind. What happened to him? Where is he today, years after Sonia fell in love with him? And why is she so grimly determined never to leave her Greenwich home, in the face of her husband’s determination to sell it?

Tideline unfolds in real time, with Sonia going to increasingly extreme lengths to keep Jez her prisoner. Her ingenuity is impressive – it’s not easy to cage a strong and strong-willed teenage male – but she outwits all his attempt to escape. A gripping, sensual story that will have you turning the pages long after you should have put the light out.

Reviews & Comments

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  • Great story line with surprising twists. I thought that the teenage children were giving more freedom than most people would allow in real life. For example a 16 year Old travelling to Paris without being helped to the train or escorted. It was a bit far fetched in other ways to. But on the whole really enjoyable.

    Karen L S

  • Sonia lives in a beautiful house on the banks of the river Thames, yet is dissatisfied with her life and haunted by memories of her dysfunctional childhood spent on the river. When fifteen year old Jez visits the River House to borrow some music, Sonia invites him into her home, and then refuses to let him leave. At first Sonia’s intentions appear altruistic, but her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, and she becomes deeper and deeper immersed in fantasy. What then follows is a chilling psychological suspense story as Sonia becomes submerged in her feelings for the boy. There is no doubt that Sonia has difficulty in separating fantasy from reality, she’s not a likeable character, but the skilful nature of the narrative weaves a magical thread and pulls you into a story that takes you to the very edge of human despair. Penny Hancock’s undeniable skill at characterisation and her subtle attention to detail captures the very essence of danger. Beautifully descriptive, and often unpleasantly menacing, Tideline is a story about the disintegration of decent values, and the abandonment of moral belief.

    I really enjoyed it.


  • Beautifully descriptive, and often unpleasantly menacing, I stayed up long and late to finish it - a real page turner of a book !


  • I read this book in two days and didn't speak to my family during that time. It is one of those rare books that you climb into and don't come out until you're done. It is both a thriller and beautifully written - the descriptions of the river in particular are magical and authentic - the river is another character in fact in the book, and lifts above the usual paperback thriller. Perfect beach read I'd say - I'm only sad I've already read it and can't take it on holiday with me!

    Alexandra Ruczaj

  • Disappointing. An over-hyped book which, although it ticks all the right boxes, feels rather unconvincing. The twist which everyone seems to be going on about, was expected and, without including a spoiler, I felt as if the ending was tagged on and totally unlikely.

    Spencer Greene

  • I agree with Spencer's review. There was great scope and possibility but the novel never quite got there for me. Shame as it was an excellent idea. Would have been nice to have see more of Jez's perspective. Not my favourite of the Summer Reads.


  • Not sure about this book. The only likeable character was Jez so it was difficult to feel for any of the others. Still not sure what actually happened to him in the end!


  • I really need people's opinions about the ending (plot spoilers!) I took what happened literally until I read the Book Club quetions at the end which suggested otherwise - I hope that this cryptic comment makes sense!


  • I enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and I couldn't put it down. Its true its an unlikely story, but it didn't stop me enjoying it and desperate to find out what happened in the end.


  • I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the desciptive nature of the writing, which evoked so much in me coming from the area which the story was set in. I felt that at times it was a little unrealistic, however the story gripped me and i found it diffiuclt to put it down. have recommend to friends for a good read.

    justine barrett

  • A superb book. I thought the twist was a really unpredictable one and the characters totally convincing, especially Helen and Sonia herself. They are all locked in their own little enclave of problems and too blind too spot what is really going on. I read it on holiday and didn't want it to end. Anything else I've read since simply hasn't matched up.


  • I really struggled with this book - it took me weeks! The story line was painful & the book didn't finish it just kind of stopped but didn't leave you wanting more. Would not recommend.


  • A really disappointing read, though I did perservere and finish the book. However, the plot was unbelievable and exaggerated to the point it stretched credibility! I will not be recommending this book, which is a shame as I have enjoyed lots of Richard and Judy book club reads!


  • I rally enjoyed this book and could not put it down. It was very well written and suspenseful. I disagree that he teenagers were given unrealistic freedoms (earlier review) - this was in keeping with the relaxed parenting style of some of the characters. I did find one of the climactic scenes to be unrealistic and the ending was perhaps a little sudden, not entirely clear. All in all a good read - would recommend.


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