Title: The Matchmaker of Kenmare
Author: Frank Delaney
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
First line: The Matchmaker of Kenmare taught me much of what I know.
Spoiler alert: This review will not contain spoilers from The Matchmaker of Kenmare, but will contain spoilers from Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, the first book in the series.
The Matchmaker of Kenmare continues the story of young Ben McCarthy from Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show. It has been a decade since Ben’s wife Venetia was violently taken from him, a decade that he has spent searching for her as he travels through Ireland, collecting stories for his job with the Irish Folklore Commission. His job brings him to the doorstep of Kate Begley, the Matchmaker of Kenmare, a young woman who has learned her trade from her grandmother. Ben is immediately drawn to Kate, and their friendship and his devotion to her lead him down a path of intrigue and danger in the midst of World War II.
I love Ben, who narrates this story, as well as the first in the series. He is an observer of human nature and a storyteller, and I find his rambling style entertaining, enjoying the rabbit trails he follows in his thoughts as well as the main storyline. Ben is the kind of person whom things happen to, and there were times when I wanted to shake him and tell him to go a different way, make a different choice, instead of being drawn along by Miss Begley – but, of course, the story wouldn’t have been near as entertaining if he acted out of common sense instead of following his heart.
Because of his job as a traveling collector of stories, we see much of Ireland through Ben’s eyes and hear many of her stories through his ears. I love the way Delaney writes about Ireland. I know that much has changed, and the Ireland of the 1940s no longer exists, but oh, how I wish it did. I was extremely interested in reading about Ireland’s determination to remain neutral in World War II, a controversial stance to take, and one I hadn’t known much about. The politics of neutrality are seen more clearly in hindsight, something that Ben learns as Miss Begley lands him smack in the middle of the war, and he finds himself doing things he never could have imagined.
Miss Begley is an interesting woman. She is someone who believes what she believes, no matter the evidence to the contrary. There were times when I found myself admiring her determination, and other times when I thought, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, use your head!” Kate and Ben’s relationship walks a fine line between love and friendship, a line that gets blurrier as the story goes on. I really had no idea how their story would end, although the ending made the most sense for the characters. I am sure that this isn’t the end of Ben McCarthy’s story, either, as the ending clearly sets up a third book – one I will be anxious to get my hands on.
While you could read this book without reading Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, I think readers will enjoy it much more if they know the beginning of Ben’s story.
If you would like to read The Matchmaker of Kenmare and don’t mind reading a slightly water-damaged ARC (and you are in the US), please leave a comment – I’ll be happy to send my copy to the first person who asks.