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7 Memorable Mystery and Thriller Books Featuring Amnesia

You won't forget these novels. 

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  • Photo Credit: Artiom Vallat / Unsplash

One of my favorite tropes for mystery and thrillers are novels that use amnesia to add another extra layer of intrigue and nail-biting suspense.

These genres are already known for keeping readers engaged as active participants by helping experienced detectives and amateur sleuths alike decipher clues and detect red herrings. But things become more interesting when readers are forced to consider that the protagonist, whom we usually root for, might just be the murderer all along.

And it’s even more fascinating when readers learn that a character’s brain has blocked out shocking specifics of a crime as a defense mechanism and is not being deceitful on purpose.   

Often, the only comfort our characters can depend on is the sanctuary of their minds. They might not have any control over the malicious outside forces plotting devious crimes and horrific murders, but they can take solace in knowing that their sense of self remains firmly intact.  

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the protagonists in these novels. In the following books, every single one of a character’s beliefs and relationships are called into question.

It is up to our protagonists, who are suffering from unimaginable shock, repressed memories, brain injury, and mental illness, to attempt to recall events and bits of themselves they’d much rather keep buried deep within their subconscious.  

Fortunately, for us, it makes for an unforgettable reading experience. Here are seven mystery and thriller books featuring amnesia.



By Evan Hunter

Originally published in 1964, this unnerving, poignant psychological mystery inspired the Academy Award-nominated film Mister Buddwing.  

The novel is set in New York City and follows a man who wakes up on a park bench in Central Park wearing a gold ring engraved “From G.V.” and carrying a black address book in his jacket pocket with only one phone number. He can’t recall his name, so he refers to himself as Buddwing as he searches the vast city, hoping to find answers about his identity.

Everyone is unfamiliar, and every aspect of his true character is indefinite, yet the one name that is trying to claw its way back from the dark recesses of his mind is Grace.  

But as Buddwing meets stranger after stranger, from an attractive young college student to a sailor who takes him on an eventful outing around Chinatown, he begins to worry that no one will be able to remind him of the man he was.

He fears that his fragile psyche might be protecting himself from an awful past he would be much happier remaining oblivious to. Buddwing makes readers wonder if it’s better to be peacefully ignorant or know the truth, no matter how horrible. 

From My Cold Dead Hands

From My Cold Dead Hands

By Hilly Barmby

It’s difficult enough to suffer from amnesia. But it becomes even more upsetting when you realize you might have been a horrible person before your accident and must deal with the repercussions of actions you don’t remember committing.

This is the reality of Cassie Barber-Davenport when she wakes up in an Atlanta hospital and learns that she holds white supremacist beliefs that have alienated her from her husband and teen children.  

According to the people closest to her, whom she doesn’t remember, she came from a wealthy Southern family.

But then why does she have a London accent? Why can’t she seem to form a bond with the horse she has ridden countless times before? And why are broken fragments of memories slowly coming back that don’t fit the description of this previous life?  

After a body is found, Cassie knows she must piece together the truth before she ends up the next one dead.

Author Hill Barmby expertly gives readers tiny breadcrumbs of vital information throughout her riveting mystery thriller and sets you up for a shocking twist you still won’t see coming.    

Traitor's Purse

Traitor's Purse

By Margery Allingham

This is the 11th book in the Albert Campion Mystery series by author Margery Allingham, whom the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie, described as possessing, “…[a] quality not usually associated with crime stories, elegance.”

In Traitor's Purse, Allingham’s talent for storytelling shines once again as readers follow Albert Campion as he wakes up in a hospital with amnesia after being accused of attacking a police officer.  

Campion recalls being on an important mission for His Majesty’s government but can’t remember his task. He only knows that the police and hired pursuers are hunting for him, and he needs to act quickly to figure out his mission and how to regain his fiancé’s affection before she leaves him for another man.

Set amidst the backdrop of WWII, Allingham presents readers with a nuanced protagonist and an exciting mystery for us to crack alongside him.   

Room 15

Room 15

By Charles Harris

Ross Blackleigh has lost 18 months of his life, and he is now on trial for four crimes. The last thing he remembers was celebrating his latest work promotion with his wife during the summer, and now he is walking an unfamiliar street while bleeding from the head as snow falls against his shoulders.  

Before he can get his bearings, he is taken to a crime scene where a nurse has been fatally shot. Ross is a detective inspector whose skills should enable him to uncover the truth of the murder.

However, desperately needing medical attention himself, he is whisked away to a hospital for evaluation, only to be targeted by a knife-wielding stranger.  

Did this dangerous man who wished Ross harm have something to do with the murder, or is Ross to blame? Now the investigator must unearth the reason behind the killing while trying to uncover his missing memories.

This unsettling page-turner will cause readers to feel as desperate as the protagonist to get to the bottom of the crimes and will not disappoint with its exhilarating conclusion.     

Too Close

Too Close

By Natalie Daniels

Too Close is author Natalie Daniel’s debut psychological thriller that has been subsequently adapted as an AMC+ Original Series.

Told through alternating perspectives, it follows Connie, a wife and mother suffering from dissociative amnesia who has become institutionalized after she committed an atrocious crime. But she can’t remember the details.  

Emma, a forensic psychiatrist, is tasked with speaking with Connie to determine whether she is fit to stand trial.

Yet the more Emma is forced to spend time with this frightening woman with cuts, bruises, and bloodshot eyes, Emma realizes Connie knows how to figure out someone’s deepest, most intimate insecurities and fears.  

After all, Connie can empathize; it was the issues within her marriage and her codependent friendship with her closest friend, Ness, that might be at the root of her mental breakdown.

Delving into the human psyche and the ways our relationship dynamics can cause real lasting damage, Too Close is a novel that provides an unflinching look at the nature of companionship and betrayal.

The Good Son

The Good Son

By You-Jeong Jeong

From the #1 bestselling psychological thriller and crime fiction author, You-Jeong Jeong, who has been proclaimed “Korea’s Stephen King,” comes a twisted mother-son mystery in The Good Son.  

Twenty-six-year-old Yu-jin wakes to a strange metallic odor and is unable to recall the previous day, a phenomenon that’s familiar to Yu-jin, as he has suffered from seizures his whole life that cause memory lapses. What isn’t familiar is the dried blood caked on his skin and clothes or the bloody footprints staining his bedroom floor.  

After working up the courage to leave his room, he finds his mother—face up in a pool of her own blood with a gash across her neck. His mother screaming his name is the sole memory of the night before. But was it a scream for help or a plea for mercy?

Readers are quickly swept up in a desperate son’s three-day investigation to figure out the details surrounding his mother’s death. This tense, raw, slow-burn thriller is a spectacular study of what part resentment and guilt play within intricate family dynamics.



By Dylan Young

An adjustment—this is what life has been like for Cameron Todd ever since returning home to London. Ever since visiting Turkey with his girlfriend Emma, life has become an endless waking nightmare.

Though the details of the incident remain fuzzy, he knows from the reports that one night his girlfriend Emma fell to her death from a seaside cliff, and he was found almost lifeless, suffering from a severe brain injury that left him in a coma for 10 days.  

Investigators don’t know exactly what happened that night, though they have various speculations, and Cameron, to his dismay, can’t be of much assistance due to his frequent fugue state.

But every day he reads the report in hopes that it will jog his memory. Yet not everyone deems him innocent, and the more attacks he receives on his character, the more Cameron starts believing that maybe Emma’s fall wasn’t an accident.

This enthralling mystery thriller reminds us that sometimes our minds can become our personal prisons.    

Featured image: Artiom Vallat / Unsplash