Feb 8, 2011

Book Review: The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney

The Matchmaker of Kenmare: A Novel of Ireland by Frank Delaney
Hardcover, 416 pages
Random House February 8, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6784-8
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:


“And there’s a legend—she had only vague details—that all couples who are meant to marry are connected by an invisible silver cord which is wrapped around their ankles at birth, and in time the matchmaking gods pull those cords tighter and tighter and draw the couple slowly toward one another until they meet.” So says Miss Kate Begley, Matchmaker of Kenmare, the enigmatic woman Ben MacCarthy meets in the summer of 1943.

As World War II rages on, Ben remains haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his wife, the actress Venetia Kelly. Searching for purpose by collecting stories for the Irish Folklore Commission, he travels to a remote seaside cottage to profile the aforementioned Matchmaker of Kenmare.

Ben is immediately captivated by the forthright Miss Begley, who is remarkably self-assured in her instincts but provincial in her experience. Miss Begley is determined to see that Ben moves through his grief—and a powerful friendship is forged along the way.

But when Charles Miller, a striking American military intelligence officer, arrives on the scene, Miss Begley develops an intense infatuation and looks to make a match for herself. Miller needs a favor, but it will be dangerous. Under the cover of their neutrality as Irish citizens, Miss Begley and Ben travel to London and effectively operate as spies. As they are drawn more deeply and painfully into the conflict, both discover the perils of neutrality—in both love and war.

Steeped in colorful history, The Matchmaker of Kenmare is a stirring story of friendship and sacrifice. New York Times bestselling author Frank Delaney has written a lush and surprising novel, rich as myth, tense as a thriller, and like all grand tales—harrowing, sometimes hilarious, and heartbreaking.

*Be careful reading other reviews of this book on Goodreads, because major plot twists were given and spoiled some of the book's suspense for me before I had started the book. I have flagged that review so perhaps it will be officially flagged with a spoiler alert.* This Review is Spoiler Free.


This is another one of those books that I just could not refuse after reading that synopsis. I forgive the editors for creating such a long synopsis, because there is so much going on behind the scenes that calling this a World War II love story would be completely remiss. The book is a sort of anomaly for me: vague, opaque, labyrinthine.. yet still hypnotic, engrossing, suspenseful. There is love, romance, whimsy, tragedy, loss, and everything in between. Upon opening the book you are setting one foot into the riddle of an unknown story, not knowing which way you are supposed to go, as each piece of the puzzle is slowly lifted and you become more and more interested in the events of Miss Kate Begley and Ben MacCarthy. And the prominent side note throughout: is Ben falling in love with Kate? Too bad for him if he is, because Kate is in love with the dashing USA Military Hero Prototype Charles Miller.

Kate is the Matchmaker (happily setting Irish folks up for marriage), and Ben is the returning main character from author Frank Delaney's previous work, Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show (Feb. 2010). Although I had not read any of the author's previous works, I had no problems enjoying this on its own, though questions posed with the previous book become answered with this new book. Frank Delaney has an impressive voice that he imbibes with Ben the narrator, who was an intriguing and likeable character on his own and a perfect narrator. We get to observe Ben's reactions to the people he meets in Ireland, London and France as he follows along on a somewhat insane chase after Kate's ex-neighbor who could be a German spy. Then the next adventure comes along, and another.. as he is inextricably tied to Kate Begley in soul mate fashion.

The feel of certain countries during the war was also a major part, standing in as a character on its own was the War and how Ireland was trying very hard to be neutral. The prose the author uses is one of those that embodies the term lyrical, and I am not using it loosely here. I was very impressed with the writing style, where in reality not a lot was happening, yet the words were giving it just enough meaning to make me guessing and wanting more. The suspense and mystery behind the entire quest, with it being during the war, gave it enough of a tense sort of danger lurking beneath each character as we slowly learned bit by bit who was really who.

The major impression of the story was the way it was narrated, as Ben was telling a memoir of sorts for his children. He recounts snippets from his writings during the time the story was taking place, and once he recited the piece he offers a bit of foreshadowing and more of a clue of what is going on, as we never really know exactly what it is that is the proverbial bomb that Ben keeps alluding to throughout his adventures with Kate, the matchmaker of Kenmare. Kate is a complex character, but someone you know you would love the moment you sat down with her. The phrases and beliefs she displays make her seem intelligent, perfect, yet her heart is hidden somewhere beneath her own demons.

The plot is not a fast moving one, as the author is establishing more of a relationship between the reader and the characters, so it was a little tough in the very beginning to get my head into the intricacies of the story. Once the events started picking up and I was able to get invested with the characters and setting, I was eager to move the pages to see where The Matchmaker of Kenmare would take me. Recommended for those in the mood for an engaging mystery involving Ireland, polished with historical insight regarding World War II. I am off to discover Frank Delaney's backlist which focuses on an Ireland that he describes with an infectious glittering adoration. He has a gift with words that I am eager to be entertained with.