Source: Review copy
Publication: 1st April 2018 from Aria
TV journalist and media darling Oonagh O’Neil can sense a sinister coverup from the moment 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. 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.
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 has 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.
The Lost Children 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 of the terrible climate of rape, shame and misogyny that forced young women to go there, along with the horrors they suffered once they arrived. The Glasgow Magdalen Institution did once exist and was 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 to Oonagh, not so much to be helpful, as to keep tabs on her, 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 D.I. Alec Davies are at loggerheads as each tries to make sense of what is going on – and when another dead body turns up in Father Tom’s church, suspicion points at him.
I really enjoyed this book. Talbot doesn’t shirk from tackling some very difficult and harrowing subjects and she does so within a well plotted and tautly written book. Her characters are believable with a great mix of light and shade, virtues and flaws and I loved the central character of Oonagh O’Neill. More than anything, Talbot gives a warm and articulate voice to a generation of forgotten women.
The Lost Children is an excellent read and I thoroughly recommend it.
*The Lost Children was originally published as Penance by Strident Press
About Theresa Talbot
Theresa Talbot is a BBC broadcaster and freelance producer. A former radio newseditor, she also hosted The Beechgrove Potting Shed on BBC Radio Scotland, but for many she will be most familiar as the voice of the station’s Traffic & Travel. Late 2014 saw the publication of her first book, This Is What I Look Like, a humorous memoir covering everything from working with Andy Williams to rescuing chickens and discovering nuns hidden in gardens. She’s much in demand at book festivals, both as an author and as a chairperson.
Follow Theresa on Twitter @Theresa_Talbot
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