Secrets of the Tides

Hannah Richell

The Tides are a family with dark secrets. Haunted by the events of one tragic day ten years ago, they are each, in their own way, struggling to move forwards with their lives. Dora, the youngest daughter, lives in a ramshackle East End warehouse with her artist boyfriend Dan. Dora is doing a good job of skating across the surface of her life - but when she discovers she is pregnant the news leaves her shaken and staring back at the darkness of a long-held guilt. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house perched high on the Dorset coastline, Dora must confront her past. Clifftops hasn't changed in years and moving through its rooms and gardens, Dora can still feel the echo of that terrible summer's day when life changed forever for the Tides. As Dora begins her search for clues surrounding the events of that fateful day, she comes to realise that the path to redemption may rest with her troubled sister, Cassie. If Dora can unlock the secrets Cassie swore she would take to her grave, just maybe she will have a shot at salvation. But can long-held secrets ever really be forgiven? And even if you do manage to forgive and forget, how do you ever allow yourself to truly love again?

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This gripping book is a sweeping generational saga exploring the tragic secrets of what was once an ordinary, happy family.

Dora, the now-grown-up youngest daughter, is pregnant at the start of the novel, delighted and totally happy in her relationship with young artist Dan, but deeply ambivalent about her fitness to be a mother.

She needs to revisit her past, to find some resolution to the tragedy which blighted the lives of her family long ago.

So Dora returns to Clifftops, the lovely old house by the sea in Dorset where she was brought up. There, she meets her estranged mother, Helen, who lives alone in the big house.

Helen is hostile and cold; implacable in her fierce rejection of her daughter.

At Clifftops, in a series of flashbacks, the story of how the Tide family disintegrated gradually unfolds.

The cause of their shattered lives lies in years past, when Dora and older sister Cassie were left to take care of their baby brother Alfie on a trip to the beach. The three year old disappeared, never to be seen again.

So, these are the secrets of the Tides. What happened to Alfie? Why did Cassie and Dora let him out of their sight? Why was their mother, Helen, not with them that terrible day, when she and her husband Richard had a rule that Alfie was only ever allowed on the beach when an adult was present? Was Richard himself partly to blame, for leaving his wife and children to live in remote Dorset while he pursued his career in London?


Central to this story is one question. Can a family survive not only a tragic young death, but also the guilty secrets that each of them carry within?

The novel reveals how a family thrown into anguish and turmoil can turn inward, each blaming the other for what has happened.

As we see on television news time and again, men and women react differently to grief. Bereaved parents often separate, unable to save a marriage devastated by a single incident entirely beyond their control.

So Helen and Richard’s marriage struggles to survive. But, each wrapped in their own private despair, they fail to see how their daughters are suffering too. Helen turns her face against the girls, blaming them for the loss of her boy. And so the family grows slowly, but inevitably, further and further apart.

The book begins with an apparent suicide, and the story is extremely dark in places. Yet it is also a vivid evocation of real family life set in a beautiful seaside setting.

Although the message is that all families have their secrets, Richell also shows that by facing up to hidden feelings of guilt, the Tides have a chance to make a new start. Not as perfect as the golden family life they once enjoyed – and not without a lot of damage along the way. But a form of survival none the less, as they look forward to the arrival of Dora’s baby, and the blessings a new life can bring.

The Secrets of the Tides is a richly rewarding read.

Reviews & Comments

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  • Hello, would just like to say that I purchased this book after listening to your review on the podcast. It was a fantastic read, I couldn't bare to put it down. Thank you for recommending it.

    Diane Glover

  • What a wonderfull book such a lovely story, I couldn't put down.

    Heather Sheehan

  • A lovely book. Very readable and very sad.


  • I so enjoyed this book. The house work had to wait. I couldn't put it down. The 1st of the Autumn season selection.

    Jen Nixon

  • Really enjoyed this book and the way the story unfolded.Poor Dora to have felt so much guilt and the pain of her mothers rejection when she really wasn.t to blame at all.

    sue richards

  • This was an interesting story that kept you turning the pages however it ran out of steam. The ending seemed to arrive before the end of the book - I thought well there must be more "secrets" but it was a very lack lustre finish to an otherwise quite interesting book.


  • Very good debut novel -


  • I loved this book, I read it in a couple of days I just couldn't put it down.


  • I cried my way though this book but couldn't stop reading. I would recommend but if you are feeling depressed at all do not start. It is sad but a very good read. I cried more about what could have been, as well as the actual incident. Read but make sure you are in a good place first and have a box of tissues handy

    Su Trinder

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