When I finished THE MATCHMAKER OF KENMARE, which picked up where VENETIA KELLY’S TRAVELING SHOW left off, I expressed the hope that Frank Delaney would have more to say about Ben MacCarthy, gatherer of stories for the Irish Folklore Commission. The good news is that he did. The bad news is that THE LAST STORYTELLER is the final book of the trilogy.
Ben MacCarthy was 18 years old when he met Venetia Kelly. His father had run off to join her traveling show, and Ben’s mother sent her son to bring him back. In the course of carrying out his mother’s orders, young Ben fell under Ms. Kelly’s spell. Despite the 14-year age disparity, they married and lived happily for a time, just not very long. One day, Ben came home to an empty house. From that day forward, he embarked on a desperate search for his missing wife. It has been a long and dangerous journey.
"Once again, Frank Delaney has spun a magical tale with his lyrical prose. This is a trilogy to be read and re-read. What a saga!"
He found Venetia once, having remarried and moved to the States. At the same time, he found his children. Twins. In fact, he wrote this three-volume account for them so they would know their parents’ story.
“I mean to tell it all. Nothing held back. Think of it as the higher purpose for this family memoir. If that’s what we’re calling it. Some memoir. In which your father seems, with icy calculation, either to have lost his mind or abandoned his principles. Or both. Let me begin with the planning.”
Whether out of cowardice or compassion, Ben quietly left Venetia to dwell with her new family in America. But she never strayed far from his memory. Now he’s heard that she’s back in Ireland. It’s been 25 years, and she belongs to “Gentleman” Jack Stirling now. Except that doesn’t matter to Ben. Jack stole her away, forced her into an illegal divorce, and treated her like a possession (and not a treasured one). She deserves more.
A lot can happen in 25 years, though. Does Venetia even want Ben anymore? Is she comfortable with her life as it is now? Ben considers these questions while he fights with a decision. Almost as though punishing himself by tempting fate, he gets involved with some shady characters. Now, the freedom fighters of Ireland in the 1950s had some honest motives, but the people Ben has crossed paths with aren’t exactly the hero types. With these thugs dogging his heels, he somehow runs afoul of the police, too. While trying to extricate himself from the mess he’s made of his life, he forges ahead with a not-so-well-thought-out plan to free Venetia from Jack’s clutches. Well, “Gentleman” Jack Stirling is no gentleman, and he has an aversion to losing. He also has a mean temper.
Ben actually finds more courage than even he thought he had. But in carrying out his plan, he lost something valuable within himself. In order to make amends and cleanse his heart, he turns to storytelling, calling on his old friend, John Jacob Farrell O’Neill. If anyone can help Ben redeem himself, it’s O’Neill. And what of Venetia? O’Neill might be able to help there, too.
THE LAST STORYTELLER weaves in a jackpot of charming Irish myths amongst the life story of Ben MacCarthy, a fresh and unforgettable character in modern literature. Once again, Frank Delaney has spun a magical tale with his lyrical prose. This is a trilogy to be read and re-read. What a saga!
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on February 9, 2012