December 23

Penance – Theresa Talbot

PenanceOonagh 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.


My thanks to Douglas Skelton for giving me his copy of Penance (which he had won when we attended last month’s Noir in the Bar).  Douglas if you need it back I am afraid Theresa wrote in it…will be fine as long as you know someone called Gordon.


I am going to struggle to do Penance justice in this review. It is a fabulous book, it tells a story partly based around historical events which add a layer of heart-breaking tragedy, it is emotive, often funny and frequently shocking. You have to read it!

Central character Oonagh O’Neil is an investigative journalist and she has been looking into the closure of Glasgow’s Magdalene Institution many years prior to events in the main story. Oonagh believes that a local priest can help her uncover what went on behind the Institutions closed doors but before she can get the full story the priest dies during mass.

Oonagh refuses to give up on her investigation but pursuing the story is putting lives in danger (including Oonagh’s own). A rival journalist is digging the dirt on Oonagh and will stop at nothing to suppress her story if the payoff from other ‘interested parties’ makes it worth his while!

Events in Penance are mainly played out in Glasgow in the year 2000 but at times the story drops back to the late 1950’s and we see how girls may have ended up in the Magdalene Institutions and (more alarmingly) what they endured while they were resident. The small time-shifts are handled really well, do not break the flow of the story, and add depth and context to the main plot which makes the endgame so damn effective.

A tricky read at times, the brutal reality is handled with sensitivity by Theresa Talbot. But she does not shirk away from confronting the unsettling subject matter and Penance is a compelling story as a result.  Most definitely a story I am glad I have read – 5/5 review score was guaranteed when I realized that I was frequently thinking back to Penance when I was meant to be working!


Penance is published by Strident Publishing.

You can buy a copy here:

Theresa Talbot is on Twitter: @Theresa_Talbot







Category: 5* Reviews, From The Bookshelf | Comments Off on Penance – Theresa Talbot