The best novels set by the River Thames in London

Why am I passionate about this?

I have lived in London most of my life, and what I love most about it are the wild places, the spots where the city and nature rub shoulders. When reading fiction, ‘place’ matters a lot to me, and if I am familiar with the setting, I like it to be accurate. That said, I love a little fantasy to stretch the boundaries. As well as being a writer and editor, I have worked part-time in bookshops for over forty years, and during that time, I must have read hundreds of novels set in and around London. These are five of my absolute favourites.


I wrote...

Urban Nature Every Day: Discover the natural world on your doorstep

By Jane McMorland Hunter, Sally Hughes,

Book cover of Urban Nature Every Day: Discover the natural world on your doorstep

What is my book about?

This book aims to encourage people to discover nature in urban areas. Not everyone wants or has the time to don wellies and waterproofs and traipse miles across muddy fields in search of a lesser-spotted something, but you really don’t need to. Sally and I have seen amazing natural sights from pub terraces, canal-side paths, picnics in the park, and walks around docks. 

The book is aimed at beginners and experts alike, and we have attempted to include something for every taste: large and small, good and bad, truly wild and partly cultivated. Our aim is to awaken your curiosity and alert you to the possibilities on your doorstep. Go outside or look out of the window and prepare to be amazed.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Offshore

Jane McMorland Hunter Why did I love this book?

I have always liked the idea of living in a houseboat on the River Thames. This wonderful story simultaneously fed my fantasies and made me realise it might not be as idyllic as I imagined.

The houseboats on Battersea Reach are like a small village–each character is an individual yet integral part of the whole, their fortunes rising and falling with the tide. Through these characters, the book paints a picture of sixties London, swinging yet also unforgiving for those who slip between the cracks. Penelope Fitzgerald lived on a barge in Battersea, and I think much of the story is based on personal experience.

What I particularly liked was the sense of the houseboat dwellers not quite belonging, being offshore in more ways than one. 

By Penelope Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Offshore as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE
FEATURED ON BBC'S BETWEEN THE COVERS BOOK CLUB

Penelope Fitzgerald's Booker Prize-winning novel of loneliness and connecting is set among the houseboat community of the Thames, with an introduction from Alan Hollinghurst.

On Battersea Reach, a mixed bag of the temporarily lost and the patently eccentric live on houseboats, rising and falling with the tide of the Thames.

There is good-natured Maurice, by occupation a male prostitute, by chance a receiver of stolen goods. And Richard, an ex-navy man whose boat, much like its owner, dominates the Reach. Then there is Nenna, an abandoned wife…


Book cover of Ordinary Thunderstorms

Jane McMorland Hunter Why did I love this book?

As with all the books I have chosen, the River Thames is a central part of this story.

From the affluence of Chelsea, it moves through the varied moods of the river, from crime in Rotherhithe through the Thames Barrier Park (one of my favourite London parks) to the point where it becomes the North Sea. At each twist and turn in the tale, the river matches the events perfectly.

The story is centred round a crime, but what I found fascinating was how a single error of judgement on the part of an innocent academic leaves him homeless, jobless, and in danger, with nowhere to run but a tiny patch of grass by the river. 

By William Boyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ordinary Thunderstorms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One May evening in London, as a result of a chance encounter and a split-second decision, the young climatologist Adam Kindred loses everything - home, job, reputation, passport, credit cards, money - never to get them back. With the police and a hit man in merciless pursuit, Adam has no choice but to go underground, joining the ranks of the disappeared, struggling to understand how his life has unravelled so spectacularly. His journey of discovery will take him along the Thames from Chelsea to the sink estates of the East End. On the way he encounters aristocrats, priests, prostitutes and…


Book cover of Rivers of London

Jane McMorland Hunter Why did I love this book?

I love a mix of fantasy and reality. This book (and the following series) has changed the way I look at almost everywhere in London.

Unbeknownst to most policemen and nearly all members of the ordinary public, the Metropolitan Police have a unit that deals with magic in the city. Seemingly-innocent events are often caused by vampires, magicians, or the rivalries between the gods and goddesses of the River Thames’ tributaries.

Here, it is not just the Thames that is important; all the little, often overlooked, waterways have a role to play. Peter, the Detective Constable at the heart of the story, is also a trainee wizard; the plot moves at breakneck speed, and I found it funny, exciting, and surprising all at once. 

By Ben Aaronovitch,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Rivers of London as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book 1 in the Rivers of London series, from Sunday Times Number One bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch.

My name is Peter Grant, and I used to be a probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth.

My story really begins when I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was already dead...

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London's Metropolitan Police. After taking a statement from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost, Peter comes…


Book cover of Original Sin

Jane McMorland Hunter Why did I love this book?

I need crime novels to have a good backstory–characters that grip me beyond the murder, burglary, or kidnapping. The setting of this story, in the world of publishing in a building on the bank of the River Thames, fulfills everything I could want.

As a detective, Adam Dalgliesh is intriguing; he is highly respected but intensely private, a published poet who lives alone in a flat overlooking the river, all of which made me want to know more about the man, as well as the crime he has to solve. 

By P. D. James,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Original Sin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major Channel 5 series

'The Queen of Crime.' New York Times

The Peverell Press, a two-hundred-year-old publishing firm housed in a dramatic mock-Venetian palace on the Thames, is certainly ripe for change. But the proposals of its ruthlessly ambitious new managing director, Gerard Etienne, have made him dangerous enemies - a discarded mistress, a neglected and humiliated author, and rebellious colleagues and staff. When Gerard's body is discovered bizarrely desecrated, there is no shortage of suspects and Adam Dalgliesh and his team are confronted with a puzzle of extraordinary complexity and a murderer who is prepared to strike…


Book cover of The Miraculous Sweetmakers #1: The Frost Fair

Jane McMorland Hunter Why did I love this book?

As a bookseller as well as a writer and editor, I believe strongly that good children’s books should also be read by adults.

The setting here is 1683, and the River Thames is frozen. I studied history, and I often stand on London Bridge and try to imagine the flowing water as a field of ice with stalls and side shows on the frozen surface. Embankments and new bridges mean the river no longer freezes, but this story brings historical London to life and allows us to feel what it would have been like.

A magic nocturnal Frost Fair, a lost boy, and a determined twin sister are at the heart of this bewitching story, which is dark yet uplifting–a perfect combination that had me gripped throughout. 

By Natasha Hastings,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Miraculous Sweetmakers #1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

'Absolutely stunning... Real emotional depth alongside a fast-paced plot. Fantastic' A F Steadman

An amazing and captivating, curl-up-on-the-sofa debut about a magical frost fair and the lasting power of friendship, perfect for fans of Tamzin Merchant, Abi Elphinstone and Anna James.

The Great Frost of 1683 has London in its icy grip.

Thomasina and her best friend Anne sell sweets on the frozen Thames, amid rumours of the magical Frost Fair that awakens there at night. They say if you can find the fair, Father Winter himself will grant you any wish.

And Thomasina has an impossible wish: the return…


You might also like...

Return to Hope Creek

By Alyssa J. Montgomery,

Book cover of Return to Hope Creek

Alyssa J. Montgomery Author Of A Spanish Seduction

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Australian USA Today bestselling romance author who writes contemporary romance and uses the pen name Alyssa James to write medieval romance. I think the makeover trope resonates with me because although I’m no beauty queen now, I was definitely an ugly duckling in my teens. For reasons best known to him, my father insisted on close-cropped hair, and financial circumstances dictated out-of-style hand-me-down clothing. After university, I found my own style, but it wasn’t until I was accepted as an international flight attendant that I believed that I couldn’t be all that ugly if Qantas employed me!

Alyssa's book list on makeover romances

What is my book about?

Return to Hope Creek is a second-chance rural romance set in Australia.

Stella Simpson's career and engagement are over. She returns to the rural community of Hope Creek to heal, unaware her high school and college sweetheart, Mitchell Scott, has also moved back to town to do some healing of his own.

Mitchell, a former NFL quarterback, doesn't need the complication of encountering Stella again so long after the messy end to their relationship, but as each tries to build a new life, they are drawn together and find their chemistry is just as strong as ever.

Will their love be stronger the second time around?

Return to Hope Creek

By Alyssa J. Montgomery,

What is this book about?

When two old flames come back to their home town, sparks are bound to ignite. A rural romance from USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery.


A horrific car accident ended former world number-one Stella Simpson’s tennis career, and a betrayal ended her relationship with her fiancé/coach. When a family friend offers to sell her half of a property in the rural community where she grew up, it seems like the perfect place to escape, heal and begin the next phase of her life. Until she discovers that the man who broke her heart ten years ago has bought the…


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