Years after his Irish vaudeville adventures in Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show (2010), 29-year-old Ben McCarthy loses his heart to an eccentrically spunky young matchmaker who keeps him platonically glued to her side as she searches for her missing new husband, an American captain, in war-torn Europe.
McCarthy, who works for a government folklore commission, is collecting material on matchmakers in Ireland when he meets his match in Kate Begley. Their unusually intimate friendship, which requires them to sleep naked together so they know each other (almost) to the fullest, is well-timed. Ben is haunted by the disappearance of his wife Venetia, a mystery that was never solved. Four years into World War II, known as "The Emergency" in Ireland, a pervasive sense of isolation grips the country, a strategically desirable place for Germany and the United States. After Kate's stolid husband, Capt. Miller, resumes his duties in Europe, and then talks her into going behind German lines on a secret mission, she and Ben find themselves in danger. When military authorities tell her the man known as "Killer Miller" was killed, she refuses to believe it and obsessively pursues him across a span of years and across the Atlantic Ocean—still leading Ben around by the heartstrings. Retrospectively told by Ben to his daughters, this book is a teasing epic punctuated by hints of how much worse things are going to get for the heroine. The resolution of Venetia's disappearance feels tossed off, and the novel ends up in John Irving territory with its cute antics involving zoo animals and oddball characters. As a result, it doesn't take flight as much as it should. But with its memorable characters and variety of adventures, Delaney's brand of Irish fabulism is still a delight to read. The novel burnishes this veteran writer's reputation as a consummate storyteller.
One of the best fictional wartime couples animates veteran Delaney's darkly wistful novel.