Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A tall tale

There are no leprechauns in Frank Delany's The Matchmaker of Kenmare. Even so it qualifies as an Irish tall tale. Narrator Ben McCarthy, also the hero of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, works as a folklorist. He travels about the Irish countryside in the early days of World War II collecting folk tales. While investigating the work of matchmakers, he meets Kate Begley, a young woman who is learning the business from her grandmother.

Ben becomes smitten with Kate, but there are a couple of problems. First, if you've read the earlier novel you'll know that he is married to actress Venetia Kelly, who has disappeared. While Ben roams the countryside, he continues his search for his missing wife. Second, while Kate likes Ben, she loves a dashing American officer named Charles Miller, and she enlists Ben's help as she tries to make her own match with him.

Amazingly, Ben goes along with Kate's plans, which soon involve sneaking into occupied France to kidnap a German officer and bring him back to Ireland. Before the war, Kate had found a wife for the German, who it turns out is only too happy to be rescued from the war and taken back to neutral Ireland. Upon returning with her prize for Charles, he agrees to marry her. Then he leaves for the war.

Soon Kate enlists Ben's aid once again. Charles, who has earned the nickname Killer Miller, is missing in action and presumed dead, but Kate remains convinced he is still alive. She and Ben return to France and go behind enemy lines to look for him. I don't know which is harder to believe: that a woman would venture into a war zone to find her husband to bring him home with her, that another man (who also loves her) would help her or that members of the underground would put their lives at risk for such a crazy scheme.

The search for Charles (and Venetia) continues even after the war's end and takes Ben and Kate to America, where they travel halfway across the country in the company of a giraffe. I said this was a tall tale.

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