Historical Fiction, Romance

The Unknown Beloved, by Amy Harmon

I’m struggling, dear reader. I’m struggling. As much as I love historical fiction, I’m realizing that the events chosen by the author don’t always work. This is my dilemma with the last two Amy Harmon books I’ve read, A Girl Called Samson and now The Unknown Beloved.

Why is it that some historical fiction feels so right? I’m thinking of Rhys Bowen’s and Jennifer Ryan’s books set during World War II, Fiona Davis’s The Spectacular, and even the iconic Titanic movie. The Spectacular is the one I compare the most with The Unknown Beloved, because both of them have to do with killers that terrorized major cities. In The Spectacular it was The Mad Bomber in New York. In The Unknown Beloved it is the Torso Murderer, known for killing and dismembering his victims in Cleveland, Ohio.

Bear with me as I try and work this out in my mind. First of all, the suspect thought to be NYC’s Mad Bomber was caught. Caught in the book and caught in real life. It was a case that pioneered criminal profiling for the future of police work. And, although, there are some fictional characters at the center of The Spectacular, mainly the female protagonist who becomes a Rockette, there is the right balance between her story and the crimes. And, most importantly, there is no forced romance that gets in the way.

The Unknown Beloved begins in the 1920s. A couple is murdered, leaving their young daughter, Daniela, orphaned. Fast forward fifteen years when Daniela is living with her aunts and renting out a room to Michael Malone. Malone has been chosen by Eliot Ness (known for bringing down Al Capone) to discover the identity of the Cleveland Torso Murderer. But he’s also the officer who, once upon a time, helped a frightened little girl after the death of her parents. Now Malone is forty and widowed. Daniela is twenty five. She’s wise beyond her years and has some extra sensory gifts that can help with the case…and this is where my issues begin.

The magical realism–Daniela can touch fabric and psychically know details about the person who owned the garment–and the attraction between a jaded treasury agent and a young seamstress are too outside the bounds of possibility for me. Not that large age differences can’t happen between couples, but because there just doesn’t seem like enough compatibility to sustain this particular relationship. It feels more like they are two lonely people yielding to the coincidence of seeing each other again after all these years.

So I guess my point is that, yes, we should definitely expect fiction when we read Historical Fiction, but so much of a book’s success is based on what is fictionalized. Some readers might not care–which is fine. I’m learning that I do care. Therefore, in my odd, roundabout way I can only give The Unknown Beloved a lukewarm rating. The writing is still great, the story is interesting, but it’s flawed. Not just with the romance but with the outcome of the crime, which seemed like a very strange backdrop for a romance from the very beginning.

8/10 Stars

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