Robert Shannon, an Irish-American priest, is suffering from shell shock after serving as a chaplain in World War I. To help him heal, his cardinal in Boston sends him to Ireland to walk the countryside along the Shannon River, to search for his relatives, to -- be thrust right into the middle of a bloody civil war? Oh, good idea.
"Shannon" is a delightful and engrossing read, overflowing with Delaney's passion for his country's beauty, history and traditions. He cannot resist tucking all kinds of affectionate asides into his novel -- the Gaelic origin of place names and family names, instructions for making a bodhran (an Irish goatskin drum) and legends of Brian Boru and Finn MacCoul. Sometimes you think the novel is just a vehicle for Delaney to convey all the Irish information he has in his head. But he does so deftly.
As Father Shannon hikes the river, he meets kind people who take him in. He meets members of the irregulars (the ragtag army that opposed the treaty that split off Northern Ireland), who are not so welcoming. And he meets Vincent Ryan, who, in an alarming and briefly inexplicable turn of events, has been dispatched by the cardinal in Boston to track down Shannon and do away with him.
Here Delaney gets a wee bit melodramatic, with a country cottage, a beautiful woman, a torrential rainstorm and a murdering lunatic. But we can forgive him for this, because he has given us 380 other pages that sing with the beauty of the countryside and the river, and with Delaney's nice storytelling.