Penance by Theresa Talbot


My grateful thanks to the author Theresa Talbot for a copy of Penance in return for an honest review and an ENORMOUS apology that she has waited over 18 months for me to get round to reading it! Some of my excuses for the delay are documented here.

Penance was published by Strident in October 2015 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.



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.

My Review of Penance

When Father Kennedy drops dead in the middle of mass, there are repercussions that echo back decades.

I thoroughly enjoyed Penance. What I loved about it was the quality of the plotting. I really appreciated the way in which all the strands were drawn together to a highly satisfactory conclusion and I was especially impressed by the way I thought I had it all worked out but had only managed partially to guess what was really going on. The events set in the 1950s made for very uncomfortable reading and gave me a real insight into the lives of unmarried mothers at the mercy of society and the institution of the church at the time. I was so drawn in to the story that I simply put life on hold and read the whole book in one sitting. Without spoiling the plot, there is one incident that made me feel we haven’t moved on much since Thomas Hardy wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles and I felt there were echoes of his writing in Penance.

I thought the characterisation was excellent. Whilst Oonagh belongs to an environment with which Theresa Talbot is familiar so that there is credibility to her, Oonagh is not an idealised version of the author. Oonagh has flaws, deviousness and a stubborn streak that means she doesn’t always behave well or even rationally, but every one of her actions is absolutely believable and the writing draws in the reader so comprehensively that I went from from finding Oonagh an unattractive character at the start to one for whom I had the highest regard at the end as if she were real.

Whilst both character and plot deserve high praise, what most appealed to me about Penance was the range of themes, and moral and social issues, raised by the narrative. The story is highly entertaining but it also made me think. Our desperate need to belong and be loved as individuals is there, as is the right to life and abortion debate. Theresa Talbot explores what is morally justified and how history can be manipulated and distorted so that sometimes we can lose sight of what makes a crime and what is forgivable. Other themes include adultery, homosexuality, the media, religion and prostitution so that there is much to ponder whilst enjoying a cracking story.

As a result of the easy and flowing style, Penance is a thoroughly entertaining read and I heartily recommend it – I just wish I’d read it sooner.

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.

You can follow Theresa on Twitter and visit her website.

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