His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.
Like S J Watson’s best-selling Before I Go to Sleep, this debut novel by Penny Hancock takes us inside the head of a woman whose life is shaped by strange, disturbing circumstances.
Sonia is a voice trainer who lives with her generally absent husband and daughter in her beloved River House near Greenwich. The setting isn’t coincidental since the river is, in effect, a key character in Tideline. On the first page Sonia is visited by Jez, an attractive young man, hardly more than a boy, come to borrow an old vinyl record. By the end of the chapter she’s made sure he’s too drunk to leave, and it’s not long before she is resorting to sleeping pills, locked rooms and duct tape to make sure he stays on as her guest/prisoner.
The reasons for her obsession - something to do with a long-ago teenage infatuation with a boy called Seb - are hinted at in flashbacks strung through the book. The first-person narrative is unsettling because Sonia feels completely justified in what she’s doing and blames anyone but herself as things start to go badly wrong. Some variety is provided by a parallel narrative showing the impact of Jez’s disappearance on family and friends, and the police investigation.
This isn’t a standard procedural, though, but a very effective psychological chiller, a little reminiscent of John Fowles’s The Collector. It’s creepy and involving and, although you occasionally feel you’d like to shake sense into the deeply deluded Sonia, by the end of Tideline the author manages the real feat of combining sympathy and judgement.