Calling on the Matchmaker (A Shanahan Match)

Written by Jody Hedlund
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In 1849, the city of St. Louis, Missouri, is the temporary home of numerous immigrants as well as the “Gateway to the West” for settlers seeking a better life. Finola Shanahan and Riley Rafferty are both from respectable Irish families and of marrying age. But each has experienced an earlier personal tragedy. As a result, Finola feels she must become a Catholic nun while Riley, who seems to no longer have time for women, becomes a mayoral candidate in hope of making life better for the city’s poor. Yet forces are working to bring them together, most especially up-and-coming matchmaker Bellamy McKenna.

The novel captures graphically the experiences of the poor Irish trying to recover from the “coffin ships” which transported them, the stark reality of Black slavery, and the devastating effects of a cholera outbreak. Yet, ironically, it is also infused with flashes of hilarious Irish humor, driving an unexpected romantic attraction on the part of the two protagonists, and an interesting insight into pre-Civil War America. Very well done, and much better than I anticipated.  Recommended.