Mysteries and the Mind! 6 Mysteries with Mental Health, Intrigue, and Suspense at Play…
Writing in the first person from the point of view of an anxiety sufferer brought a wealth of challenges to the narrative—I actually interviewed over a dozen sufferers to ensure authenticity—which got me thinking: what other thrillers weave mental health issues through the mystery in a similar manner?
Here are my top six! What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.
Tell Me Your Dreams by Sidney Sheldon
Someone was following her. She had read about stalkers, but they belonged in a different, faraway world. She had no idea who it could be, who would want to harm her. She was trying desperately hard not to panic, but lately her sleep had been filled with nightmares, and she had awakened each morning with a feeling of impending doom…
All right, so this title is nearly twenty years old, but it’s one of the first thrillers I ever remember reading at the ripe old age of eight. Three beautiful young women are suspected of committing a series of brutal murders, and the police make an arrest that leads to one of the most bizarre murder trials of the century. Based on actual events, Sheldon’s novel races from London to Rome to Quebec City to San Francisco, with a climax that will leave the reader stunned. Mental disorders play a part, but I can’t tell you who and what. But trust me. It’s a damn good read.
The Girl Before by Rena Olsen
When Clara Lawson’s home is invaded by armed men, she finds herself separated from her beloved husband and daughters. The last thing her husband yells to her is to say nothing. In chapters that alternate between past and present, the novel slowly unpeels the layers of Clara’s fractured life. We see her childhood and we see her now, sequestered in an institution, questioned by men and women who call her a different name—Diana—and who accuse her husband of unspeakable crimes. As her past and present collide, she must question everything she thought she knew.
Talking about her powerful debut, which came out this summer, Olsen told me, “I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and I’ve been doing therapy with children and families for ten years. In that time I’ve worked with people from many different situations, dealing with a variety of issues. While I would never use a specific client as a model for a book character, I was able to use similar themes, especially from those who have experienced abuse. In Clara’s case, most would call what she was dealing with Stockholm Syndrome, though that’s not an actual diagnosis.
“There’s a lot of that internal struggle that you see in her, the longing to go back to the safety of believing the way she always lived was right, while knowing that she can never get back to that place and must move forward with the new knowledge that she has been given. It’s a difficult thing, learning that everything you thought about your life was a lie.”
What I Couldn’t Tell You by Faye Bird
When love turns to jealousy, when jealousy turns to rage, when rage turns to destruction…
Laura was head over heels in love with Joe. But now Laura lies in a coma and Joe has gone missing. Was he the one who attacked her?
Laura’s sister Tessie is selectively mute. She can’t talk but she can listen. And as people tell her their secrets, she thinks she’s getting close to understanding what happened on that fateful night.
This YA thriller follows the story of Tessie, a teenage girl with selective mutism, as she attempts to unravel the web of jealous lies surrounding her sister’s accident. With a rip-roaring pace and a gripping narrative, Bird’s second novel is extremely well researched, and Tessie is fascinatingly multidimensional.
Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
Meet Maud. Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognizable or her daughter Helen seems a total stranger.
But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.
Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved 70-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.
Everyone, except Maud . . .
In this darkly riveting debut novel, a sophisticated psychological mystery, one woman will stop at nothing to find her best friend. Despite Maud’s growing anxiety about Elizabeth’s welfare, no one takes her concerns seriously—not her frustrated daughter, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son. Because Maud suffers from dementia. But even as her memory disintegrates and she becomes increasingly dependent on the trail of handwritten notes she leaves for herself in her pockets and around her house, Maud cannot forget her best friend. Armed only with an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth no matter what it takes. Suspenseful and heart-wrenching, I devoured this book in a few hours. You will, too.
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Ani FaNelli is the woman who has it all: the glamorous job, the designer wardrobe, the handsome and rich fiancé. But behind her sharp edges and meticulously crafted facade lies the darkest of pasts . . .
When a documentary producer invites Ani to tell her side of the chilling and violent incident that took place when she was a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, she hopes it will be an opportunity to prove how far she’s turned her life around since then. She’ll even let the production company film her lavish wedding, the final step in her transformation.
But as the wedding and filming converge, Ani’s past threatens to come back and haunt her. And as her immaculate veneer starts to crack, she is forced to question: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for or will it at long last set Ani free?
Informed by the author’s own experience with gang rape, Luckiest Girl Alive is a harrowing and visceral thriller in a similar vein to Gone Girl. It’s been optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon’s production company and topped bestseller charts around the world. Let me tell you: it’s worth the hype. Sly, darkly funny, and chilling-to-the bone, it gets under your skin and stays there.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”
The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness, all the while gradually and erratically uncovering the sequence of events that led to his brother’s untimely death. Filer worked as a researcher in the academic unit of psychiatry at the University of Bristol and as a mental health nurse on in-patient wards, so his protagonist’s voice is as raw and authentic as they come. It’s little wonder this debut won Costa Book of the Year.
Laura Salters is a twenty-something magazine journalist from the northernmost town in England. She is the author of Run Away and Perfect Prey.