Penance by Theresa Talbot

Oonagh O’ Neil has a challenge on her hands – and her head over a toilet bowl.

TV journalist and media darling Oonagh O’ Neil faces danger and chaos when an elderly priest dies on the altar of his Glasgow church. His death comes as she is about to expose the shocking truth behind the closure of a Magdalene Institution. The Church has already tried to suppress the story. Is someone also covering their tracks?

DI Alec Davies is appointed to investigate the priest s death. He and Oonagh go way back. But their friendship counts for nothing when Davies suspicions falls on Oonagh’ s married lover.

Oonagh now faces the biggest decision of her life. But will it be hers to make? What secrets lie behind the derelict Institution’s doors? What sparked the infamous three-day riot that closed it? And what happened to the three Maggies who vowed to stay friends forever? From Ireland to Scotland. From life to death.


I bought this book at Bloody Scotland last year, but this is the first chance I have had to read it, and I am sorry that I waited so long.

When Father Kennedy drops down dead during mass, Father Tom Findlay who is officiating with him thinks no more about it than that this priest’s time had come. Father Findlay has been going through his own crisis of faith, not helped by the fact that he has been helping T.V. journalist Oonagh O’Neill who is putting together a programme on the Magdalen Institutions, many of which were owned and run by the Catholic Church.

Oona believes that Father Kennedy knew much more than he was prepared to tell, and when he dies, she is convinced that there is something suspicious about his death. But the old man was riddled with cancer, so she has no hope of convincing anyone of her suspicions, not even her friend, D.I. Alec Davies.

Penance is a contemporary novel, with flashbacks to the 1950’s where we learn of the horror of the Magdalen Institutions in Ireland – and in Glasgow – and what happened that forced young women to go there along with the horrors they suffered while they were there. The Glasgow Magdalen Institution may be a fiction, but such places were once all too real. The severe cruelty and often fierce brutality are harrowing to read and the stories of the babies born dead or given away for adoption are hard to think about in modern Scotland, even although we are only half a century on.

Oonagh O’ Neil has been looking at Glasgow’s Magdalene Institution and tracking down the women who went there, documenting their stories for her programme. The Institution closed down after a riot and the burning of the building and three young women were the ringleaders .

The Catholic Church has assigned Tom Findlay, not so much to be helpful, as to keep tabs on Oonagh, but Tom is glad to have her to talk to, even if he knows little about the events she is investigating and the pair develop a friendship.

But there are people who do not like what Oonagh is doing and who would like nothing more than to see her brought down a peg or two in the process of stopping her pursuing her story. One of those is a lowlife freelance journalist who is not above a bit of pilfering if it helps him get what he needs – and he is no fan of Oonagh’s.

Oonagh is also involved in a relationship with a married man so when she is attacked in her own home, is it her pursuit of the story that has puts her life in danger, or is her extra-marital relationship giving her grief?

Tom Findlay and Alec Davies are at loggerheads as each tries to make sense of what is going on – and when another dead body turns up in Tom’s church, suspicion points at him.

I really enjoyed this book. Talbot doesn’t shirk from tackling some very difficult subjects and she does so within a well plotted and nicely written book. Her characters are believable with a nice mix of light and shade, virtues and flaws and I liked the central character of Oonagh O’Neill a great deal.

Penance is a very good read and I would certainly recommend it.

Penance was published by Strident Press on 2nd October 2015


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About Theresa Talbot

theresa talbot

Theresa Talbot is a freelance writer, journalist and radio presenter, perhaps best known as the voice of Traffic and Travel on BBC Radio Scotland and as the host of The Beechgrove Potting Shed. Prior to working with the BBC she was with Radio Clyde and the AA Roadwatch team. Theresa worked in various roles before entering the media as an assistant in children’s homes, a Pepsi Challenge girl and a library assistant. She ended up at the BBC because of an eavesdropped conversation on a no.66 bus in Glasgow. Her passions include rescuing chickens, gardening, music and yoga.

Published by marypicken

Passionate book reader. Love all kind of books from 19th century novels to crime thrillers. My blog is predominantly crime, psychological thrillers and police procedurals with a good helping of literary fiction thrown in.

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