When reading psychological thrillers, you quickly learn that you can’t trust anyone or anything. Certainly not what the characters say and do, and especially not your own interpretation of what’s really happening.

Sometimes you can’t even trust the narrator. An unreliable — or even unstable — narrator adds an extra layer of mystery to the story, making you question every clue … or leaving you wondering why you didn’t see the clues in the first place.

Some of these narrators deliberately mislead you, while others are misleading themselves. There are sane narrators who we later realize are insane, and seemingly insane narrators who nevertheless divine the truth of the situation — or turn out to be perfectly sane after all. And in between, there are narrators that are being gaslighted, suffering from a Cassandra complex, struggling with amnesia, or are simply in denial.

When it comes to this literary trope, though, there’s one thing you can rely on: unreliable narrators make thrillers even more twisty than their plots already are. Here we’ve gathered nine thrillers with unreliable narrators whose version of reality may or may not exist within their own minds.


The Fall of the House of Usher
by Edgar Allen Poe (Signet Classics)

This infamous tale, penned by one of the best horror writers in literary history, is only too fitting to start with. In The Fall of the House of Usher, the unnamed narrator visits his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, after receiving a concerning letter. Roderick has been ill ever since the decline of his sister Madeline, who’s since fallen into a catatonic state.

Soon after arriving at the manor house, the narrator begins to feel uneasy. As he and Roderick become increasingly agitated, it seems like their eyes are playing tricks on them. Are they really seeing evidence of the supernatural or are their minds beginning to unravel? But as the story progresses, the situation only becomes more dire. Something about Madeline’s demise is unnatural, and the sinister curse seems to have sunk into the House of Usher itself.

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Fight Club
by Chuck Palahniuk (W. W. Norton & Company)

While this iconic story is mainly known by the popular 1999 movie adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, it also fits the bill as a thriller with a narrator that’s not only unreliable, but in conflict with himself — in more ways than one. Suffering from insomnia, the anonymous narrator is searching for a long-term solution to his sleeping problems. He soon meets Tyler Durden, a charismatic but elusive man, who lets the narrator move into his house after his apartment is destroyed in an explosion.

The two soon establish the Fight Club, which helps its members work through the problems in their personal lives. Soon, however, the violence turns deadly, and the narrator realizes he needs to stop Tyler before the death toll rises. But how can the narrator do that, when he barely knows the real Tyler — or himself for that matter? This tale of masculinity, identity and murder questions the way our society views its citizens, and the drastic steps we take to cope with daily life.

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Saving Grace
by D.M. Barr (Black Rose Writing)

Grace Pierrepoint Rendell has never been in control of her own life. The daughter of a billionaire, she’s been medicated for paranoia since childhood. Now, with her father aging and her husband acting suspicious, Grace begins to wonder about her diagnosis. Unbeknownst to anyone, she quits her meds, and soon uncovers clues that point to a nefarious plot. She believes that after her father’s death, her husband plans to murder her for her inheritance.

Desperate to get the news out, Grace contacts an author to help tell her story. But when the author ends up dead, Grace is accused of her murder. How will Grace be able to avoid the charge, when everybody thinks she’s just a woman off her meds, ranting to the world? Saving Grace is a story that manages to be both terrifying and heart wrenching. Murder looms around every corner as Grace struggles for justice and for the right to control her own narrative. Read our full review here.

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Allegedly
by Tiffany D. Jackson (HarperCollins)

They say when Mary Addison was only nine years old, she killed a baby. Mary never confessed, but that didn’t make much of a difference. Mary and her mother had been put in charge of a white family’s baby for the day, and when the news broke, the public had no problem assuming the rest.

It’s an accusation Mary has lived with for seven years since her conviction and sentencing, the remainder of which she is serving in a group home for troubled girls. Now that she’s sixteen, she’s close to aging out of the halfway house with nowhere to go. But when Mary begins to remember key details from the night of the murder that don’t add up, she realizes she may finally have a chance to change her story, and her life. Jackson’s book tackles complex issues like race and the prison system, and shows us how damaging the miscarriage of justice can be. Read our full review here.

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When I Was You
by Amber Garza (MIRA Books)

Kelly Medina has been struggling as an empty-nester ever since her son left for college last year. When she receives a call from the pediatrician for a “well-baby” appointment, it only rubs salt in the wound. It turns out that there’s another mother in town named Kelly Medina, who’s just had a baby boy.

Suddenly Kelly can’t stop thinking about the other woman. She finds herself looking for the new mother everywhere she goes, and when the two bump into each other outside the pediatrician’s office, Kelly thinks it must be fate. But the more they interact, the more attached Kelly feels to this woman — and to her baby. Kelly believes she’s only trying to help this woman out as she adjusts to motherhood. The people around Kelly, though, aren’t so sure. They’re not sure Kelly’s fixation is healthy — or if she maybe has ulterior motives for getting close to the baby. Read our full review here.

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The Elizas
by Sara Shepherd (Atria Books)

When debut author Eliza Fontaine wakes up in the hospital, she’s told she’d tried to kill herself. She was found at the bottom of the pool and brought to the hospital just in time. The only problem is, Eliza doesn’t remember wanting to commit suicide. In fact, she thinks she remembers someone pushing her in. But without witnesses, no one seems to believe her story.

It doesn’t help that as Eliza recovers and the publication date for her novel grows closer, strange things keep happening. Her agent, editor and even her own family seem to confuse the plot of the story with events in her own life. Eliza thinks her life might honestly be in danger — but with everyone around her questioning her story, even she begins to doubt the truth. With the line between her book and her life blurring, how can Eliza remember what happened that fateful night? And how can she try to avoid another attack?

Check out the conversation we had with the author here.

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The Push
by Ashley Audrain (Viking Books)

Blythe Connor never had a good relationship with her mother, but she promised herself things would be different with her own child. That, however, proves to be easier said than done. When her daughter Violet is born, Blythe starts to worry. Violet doesn’t seem to behave the way a child should, and Blythe immediately thinks that something is wrong.

Her husband thinks she’s just sleep-deprived and worrying, but Blythe can’t shake the uncertainty. She keeps a watchful eye on Violet, even as the years pass, even when they welcome another child into the family. Violet seems fascinated by her little brother Sam, and Blythe’s husband is confident that Violet’s grown out of her concerning behaviors. But Blythe can’t find it in herself to be comforted. Deep in her bones, she knows something is wrong. And when tragedy strikes, Blythe finds her sense of reality shaken even further. Watch for Neil Nyren’s full review later this month!

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Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey (HarperCollins)

Maud has lost a lot of things in her life. Her sister Sukey, shortly after World War II. Her best friend Elizabeth, whom she’s certain is missing and in terrible danger. And lastly, her memory.

The doctors have diagnosed her with dementia, but even as Maud loses her memory bit by bit, she refuses to forget her friend. No one seems to believe her when she tells them about the danger Elizabeth is in — not the nurses, the police or even her own daughter.

If no one else is going to help Elizabeth, Maud takes it upon herself to rescue her friend. She writes countless handwritten notes to keep track of her own memories, and sets out in search of the truth. But when Elizabeth’s disappearance intersects with Sukey’s, suddenly Maud is discovering far more than she expected to find.

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The Wife Between Us
by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (St. Martin’s Griffin)

The entwining story of Vanessa and Nellie in the book The Wife Between Us will leave you reeling. While Nellie is preparing to marry her socialite fiancé Richard, his ex-wife Vanessa is determined to stop the wedding. She watches Nellie with hawk-like surveillance, and knows every intimate detail about her life — where she lives, where she works and even her home phone number. But is Vanessa just a jealous ex-wife, or does she have legitimate reasons for trying to stop the marriage?

Nellie, meanwhile, is feeling increasingly uneasy. She’s started sleeping with a baseball bat next to her bed, and three locks on the door of her apartment. But none of these precautions can stop the anonymous phone calls that keep plaguing her. As the novel progresses, the two women’s stories become all the more complicated, and all the more haunting. This electrifying read will have you on the edge of your seat as you watch the story unfold — and true identities emerge. Read our full review here.

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