Penance by Dan O’Shea
Born and raised in Chicago, Detective John Lynch might just be about to die there too. Because one dark secret might be about to tear a whole city apart. A pious old woman steps out of the Sacred Heart confessional and is shot dead by a sniper with what at first appears to be a miraculous and impossible shot. Colonel Tech Weaver dispatches a team from Langley to put the shooter and anyone else who gets in the way in a body bag before a half century of national secrets are revealed. Detective John Lynch, the son of a murdered Chicago cop, finds himself cast into an underworld of political corruption and guilty secrets, as he tries to uncover the truth about what s really going on before another innocent citizen gets killed.
In some weird cosmic synchronicity, I finish one book about a killer loose on the streets of Chicago only to pick up the next from my review pile and discover that it’s a book about a killer loose on the streets of Chicago. No need to panic though, the good news is that The Shining Girls and Penance could not be more different. Both are fun reads but, I’m glad to say, for entirely different reasons. (I’m not even going to mention the fact that the book I’m currently reading is also set in Chicago).
My favourite crime novels are ones that mange to take what appears to be a relatively simple scenario, then throw you the literary equivalent of a curve ball. Penance does just that. On the face of it, this is just a single maniac with a gun killing random targets, but when you delve deeper you’ll find so much more. This novel is chock full of conspiracies, political in-fighting, power plays and back room deals.
Detective Lynch is a solid lead character, but I have to admit that I was more interested in two shady government operatives who show up later on. Ferguson and Chen are part of Intergov, a blacker-than-black ops group who operate outside normal channels. Their partnership is one of the novels many highlights. Chen is described as a gun toting sociopath at one point, needless to say I warmed to her immediately.
Where Penance excels is the plot development. What starts as a traditional crime novel, morphs into a thriller with a much larger scope than I expected. From the reader’s perspective it’s great stuff, you’re essentially getting two books for the price of one. You don’t just get Lynch’s police investigation, there is also a razor sharp political thriller in there as well.
The other good thing is that all this clandestine cloak-and-dagger feels frighteningly believable. O’Shea’s writing never feels over the top or outlandish, he keeps things very grounded. There is a realistic approach to the action scenes that works well.
There are also a series of flashbacks that tie the new crimes with events that occurred in the nineteen seventies. John Lynch’s father, Declan, was on the force at that time, and these additional interludes help to further establish what drives Lynch now.
My only criticism, and it is a relatively minor one, I would have liked a bit more insight into the sniper. Perhaps a few more chapters from the killer’s perspective? It would have been nice to learn a bit more about what was going through their head, more detail about their frame of mind and what was motivating them. When I’m reading a story, especially one that I’m enjoying, I want to discover as much about events as I possibly can.
The novel ends with a satisfyingly action-packed climax, where all bets are off and it’s kill or be killed. There is a cinematic quality to O’Shea’s writing, Penance bears all the hallmarks of a well scripted Hollywood thriller or taut police procedural. I do hope that this is the beginning of a series? I’d certainly not be averse to visiting Detective John Lynch’s Chicago again. Dan O’Shea instinctively knows the crime genre, the evidence shows on every page.
Penance is published by Exhibit A and is available now. I reckon any crime/thriller fan will get a real kick out of it.