7 Mysteries Full of Unreliable Memories That Will Keep You Guessing ‘Til the End

Megan Collins is the author of the absorbing new novel, BEHIND THE RED DOOR. Get more info about the book here.


Memory isn’t foolproof. Like a shiny surface growing duller the more that we touch it, reality is distorted by the act of remembering. Often we recall experiences through the lens of our emotional state at the time, certain moments brightened for us, while others are cast in shadows. And sometimes, if the experience is traumatic enough, memories can go missing altogether.

Such is the case in my latest thriller, Behind the Red Door, in which the protagonist struggles to uncover memories long since buried in the hopes of saving a missing woman. Since suspense novels often revolve around some sort of trauma—a murder, an abduction, an assault—they are particularly ripe for characters who have forgotten harrowing experiences. Here are seven novels with muddled memories at the center of the mystery.

Behind Every Lie
by Christina McDonald

Sometimes memories are erased so quickly it’s as if they’re zapped right out of us. That’s what happens when Eva, struck by lightning, wakes to discover that her mother has been murdered and she’s a suspect. She has no memory of her mother’s death, but police have evidence that she was with her mother when she was killed. In trying to clear her own name, Eva stumbles upon decades of secrets that will change her understanding of her family and herself. Told from Eva’s perspective, as well as that of her mother in the years leading up to her own murder, this story has so many surprises that you won’t be able to stop reading. 

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Behind Every Lie
Christina McDonald

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of The Night Olivia Fell—an “emotionally charged mystery” (Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author)comes a thrilling new suspense novel about the insidious nature of family secrets…and their deadly potential.

If you can’t remember it, how do you prove you didn’t do it?

Eva Hansen wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and discovers her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva was found unconscious down the street. She can’t remember what happened but the police are highly suspicious of her.

Determined to clear her name, Eva heads from Seattle to London—Kat’s former home—for answers. But as she unravels her mother’s carefully held secrets, Eva soon realizes that someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. And with violent memories beginning to emerge, Eva doesn’t know who to trust. Least of all herself.

Told in alternating perspectives from Eva’s search for answers and Kat’s mysterious past, Christina McDonald has crafted another “complex, emotionally intense” (Publishers Weekly) domestic thriller. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell’s I Found You and Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, Behind Every Lie explores the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships, family trauma, and the danger behind long-held secrets.

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The Lost Night
by Andrea Bartz

Ten years ago, Lindsay’s best friend, Edie, committed suicide. Or so Lindsay thought. Blackout drunk on the night of Edie’s death, Lindsay has had to rely on the official story of what happened, but when she discovers a video from that night, she begins to wonder if her friend was actually murdered—and if she was somehow involved. Nostalgic, poignant, and blisteringly exciting, this novel will have you wondering what you might have done on nights you partied a bit too hard. 

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The Lost Night
Andrea Bartz

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MENTIONED IN:

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The Girls Weekend
by Jody Gehrman

Speaking of parties gone wrong, THE GIRLS WEEKEND follows a group of college friends, now in their thirties, whose weekend reunion on an idyllic estate turns nightmarish when the host goes missing, the women find blood in the house, and none of them have any memory of what happened. Did they simply drink too much, or did someone drug them? And worse, does one of them have blood on their hands? This exhilarating, atmospheric thriller reveals what can happen when long-simmering tensions finally explode.  

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The Girls Weekend
Jody Gehrman

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In the Woods
by Tana French

The first book in Tana French’s stellar Dublin Murder Squad series, IN THE WOODS tells the spellbinding story of Adam, a detective haunted by two cases at once: one he’s investigating, and one he can’t remember. When Adam is assigned to the murder of twelve-year-old Katie, whose body was left in the woods, he can’t help but see the parallels between his current case and a horrifying experience from his childhood: the night his friends disappeared from the very same woods and he was found gripping a tree, with blood in his sneakers, unable to recall the last several hours. Now, as Adam works to determine who killed Katie, he tries desperately to remember what else happened in the woods decades agoAlthough Starz recently released a beautiful adaptation of this novel in their Dublin Murders series, the novel itself proves that nobody does suspense—or characters with memory repressionquite like Tana French.  

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In the Woods
Tana French

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MENTIONED IN:

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Final Girls
by Riley Sager

Although Riley Sager’s latest thriller, HOME BEFORE DARK, features a character who can’t remember a pivotal experience from her life, it was actually in his riveting debut, FINAL GIRLSthat Sager first explored our minds’ ability to protect us from trauma. Ten years ago, Quincy was the sole survivor of a massacre at a cottage deep in the woods. She’s worked hard to move past the suffering she endured, but when Lisa, another famous survivor of a massacre (this one at a sorority house) is found dead in her home, and Samantha (the third “final girl,” who once survived the madman who killed several people at a motel) turns up on Quincy’s doorstep, Quincy is thrust back into the past—and the truth she uncovers will shatter the comfortable life she’s tried to build. 

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Final Girls
Riley Sager

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MENTIONED IN:

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Close
The Elizas
by Sara Shepard

Sometimes a character isn’t even aware that they’re missing pieces of their lives. This is the case with Eliza, a debut author who wakes up in a hospital having almost drowned after being pushed into a pool. The problem is her family doesn’t believe she was pushed, seeing as she has a history of suicide attempts. Worse, people begin insisting that her completely fictional novel mirrors parts of her real lifeeven though she has no memory of the events in her book having happened. She’s also forgetting people and places important to her, and as she struggles to recover memories she didn’t know she’d lost, she ends up learning so much more than she bargained for. With its fascinating book-within-a-book structure, THE ELIZAS will have you questioning everything about its titular character—especially as her memories come back. 

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The Elizas
Sara Shepard

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All Is Not Forgotten
by Wendy Walker

Unlike the other characters on this list, the teenage girl at the center of ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN had her memories erased on purpose. Seeking to protect their daughter from the trauma of a rapeJenny’s parents allow her to receive a controversial drug that will wipe the night of her vicious assault out of her mind. Still, emotions rage beneath the surface as Jenny’s body seems to recall what she cannot. As Jenny works with a psychologist to uncover her memories and try to determine who raped heranswers emerge that will have devastating consequences for her family and town. This compelling page-turner explores the psychology of trauma and the ethics of manipulating a person’s mind. 

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All Is Not Forgotten
Wendy Walker

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MENTIONED IN:

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By Off the Shelf Staff | November 30, 2020

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By Maddie Ehrenreich | November 26, 2020

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