In British author Hancock’s stunning debut, a psychological thriller set over less than a week, a respectable married woman kidnaps a 15-year-old boy and holds him captive in her historic Thames-side London house. When Jez Mahfoud, a friend’s nephew, comes to borrow her husband’s rare Tim Buckley record album, memories of an intense teenage relationship with a boy named Seb overwhelm Sonia, a voice teacher. She drugs the innocent Jez and locks him in a soundproof room. As the search for the missing Jez intensifies, so does Sonia’s compulsion to keep him hidden, especially during a visit from her family. The disturbed narrator persuades herself that this drugged boy, often bound with duct tape, is a willing participant. Despite Sonia’s twisted actions and her sensual feelings about Jez, Hancock is careful to show that she’s not a sexual predator. Descriptions of the putrid waters of the Thames add to the gothic atmosphere. Agent: Jane Gregory, Gregory and Company. (Sept.)
"It's such a thrill to read a book as deliciously dark and richly evocative as KEPT IN THE DARK. From the first page to its shocking finale it draws you into its world and won't let you go. A wonderful debut...I took KEPT IN THE DARK on my travels, thinking it would last me a couple of weeks. Two days later I'd finished it, having stayed up all night, and was telling everyone I met they had got to read it. Brilliantly written and totally gripping. I loved it." -S.J. Watson, New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep
“I was transfixed at page one of Hancock's twisty and tense debut, KEPT IN THE DARK. A nerve-fraying journey that will keep you mesmerized to the shocking end.”—Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden
“KEPT IN THE DARK kept me awake far into the night. Each page pulled me deeper into Sonia’s twisted narrative. The unstoppable manner, in which Penny Hancock drew me into this character’s world, as I read between psychic half-spread fingers covering my eyes, is a testimony to the author’s talent. By the end, I had no choice but to race to the finish.”—Randy Susan Meyers, author of The Murderer’s Daughters
“In British author Hancock’s stunning debut, a psychological thriller set over less than a week, a respectable married woman kidnaps a 15-year-old boy and holds him captive in her historic Thames-side London house.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Utterly compelling, and expertly written, KEPT IN THE DARK perfectly captures one woman's desperate need to love and be loved. A spot on rendering of obsession, I read the story with the lights on, and for days after finishing it, could not get it out of mind. It's that get-under-your-skin terrifyingly good."—Lesley Kagen, National Bestselling Author of Whistling in the Dark and Good Graces
“This invites comparison to John Fowles’ The Collector, but Hancock gives her narrator, Sonia, a more complex motive, crafting a narrative that grows darker as its level of tension builds. An accomplished first novel that lingers in memory.”—Booklist
“An impressive debut from a writer we’re certain to hear more about…There are hints of a young Daphne du Maurier in Hancock’s cool, evocative prose as she reveals the terrifying extent of Sonia’s obsession…Beautifully worked and with a sharp eye for the menace in the commonplace, it lingers in the memory like a Schubert melody, and casts a distinctive spell.” -The Daily Mail (UK)
“This creepy, well-written debut is reminiscent of John Fowles’s The Collector…with Sonia, Hancock pulls off the considerable feat of 'writing mad.'” -The Guardian (UK)
“A sparklingly creepy debut thriller with the most brilliant premise. When 15-year-old Jez pops round to voice coach Sonia’s to borrow some music, she can’t help herself—and she doesn’t let him leave.” -Mirror, 4-star review (UK)
“A clever, creepy thriller about misplaced affection and abduction...in clear, chilling prose.” -Marie Claire (UK)
"A gripping account of a woman on the edge, who commits appalling crimes and offers them up in a tone of quietly rational domesticity." -Natasha Cooper, author of the Trish Maguire Mysteries
“In Hancock’s debut novel, a pretty, middle-aged voice coach named Sonia invites a teen boy into her house on the Thames—and decides not to let him go. Writing about her crime in a calm, measured voice, Sonia comes across as a blend of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and John Fowles’s The Collector, a woman as smart as she is unstable.”—People
Pick of the Shelves 2012 -The Sun (UK)
“An impressive debut from a writer we’re certain to hear more about…There are hints of a young Daphne du Maurier in Hancock’s cool, evocative prose as she reveals the terrifying extent of Sonia’s obsession…Beautifully worked and with a sharp eye for the menace in the commonplace, it lingers in the memory like a Schubert melody, and casts a distinctive spell.
“This creepy, well-written debut is reminiscent of John Fowles’s The Collector…with Sonia, Hancock pulls off the considerable feat of “writing mad”.
Pick of the Shelves 2012
A middle-aged woman imprisons a teenage boy in Hancock's spooky debut. When daughter Kit departs for University, Sonia expects empty nest syndrome, but not intrusive memories of her adolescent encounters with a charismatic, seemingly homeless boy named Seb. Sonia is being nagged by her absentee neurologist husband, Greg, and her aging mother, to sell her beloved childhood and current residence, River House, overlooking a seedy stretch of the Thames in London. In short, conditions are ripe for a meltdown, and when golden boy Jez, her best friend Helen's 15-year-old nephew, comes over to borrow a vintage vinyl album, Sonia gets him drunk on the wine she was saving for her daughter's 21st birthday (the novel is rich in such choice details) and, almost on a whim, locks him in the River House music room. The point of view alternates between Sonia's first-person voice and Helen's third-person narration, as Jez's disappearance is chronicled day by day. Unlike a more seasoned sociopath, who might target a victim no one will miss, Sonia has selected the son of Helen's sister, Maria, a helicopter mother. Arriving from Paris, Maria blames Helen for not keeping any closer tabs on houseguest Jez (in London to interview for admission to music schools) than she does on her own teenage sons. Helen is frantic to keep the police from learning that, on the day Jez disappeared, she was in a pub nursing a hangover rather than at work, and she's also increasingly distressed at the enthusiasm with which husband Mick is consoling his anguished sister-in-law. Hancock gradually unveils the sinister parallels between Sonia's tortured infatuation with Seb and her obsession with Jez and creates enough sympathy for both Helen and Sonia that, despite the fact that one is a criminal and the other is criminally negligent, we root for both. Unfortunately the secret at the novel's core is one the first-person narrator could have revealed all along, but doesn't, making the ending seem contrived.