Top 10 Twists

I love a good twist. One that’s so unexpected, it makes me want to reread the entire story immediately just to pick up on all the hints that were dropped throughout. And, IMHO, nothing does this quite so well as the unreliable narrator.

surprisedAh, the unreliable narrator. Those wily characters who lead us down false paths, keep parts of themselves hidden, unabashedly lie to us, and yet never fail to entertain.

In honor of this month’s theme, here are my top 10 favorite twists, all thanks to unreliable narrators:

  1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  2. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  4. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  5. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  6. Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  7. In the Woods by Tana French
  8. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  9. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  10. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple


  1. The Murder of Roger Akroyd by Agatha Christie – I’ll never forget the moment when I was reading this book and I realized whodunit. My mind was completely blown! I went through the entire book believing the narrator was a good guy—after all, Hercule Poirot seemed to trust him—and then, bam!, you realize Dr. Sheppard is the killer!
  1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – On page one, the narrator states that she likes a “twist of meaning,” but even still Cadence was so compelling that I wanted to trust her. Taking place on a private island with a group of four besties who refer to themselves as the Liars, there’s a secret that Cadence must uncover, and it’s not until the end that the truth is unveiled: all the Liars except for Cadence are actually dead, having passed away in a tragic accident the summer before.
  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I bet everyone in the world was shocked when they reached the halfway point of this novel (or the film adaptation), only to discover all of Amy’s diary entries were a lie, a careful construct meant to fool the police and framing her husband for her supposed murder! The rest of the story is a rollercoaster; all leading up to the rather twisted ending where you learn Amy and Nick are going to have a baby. 
  1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – The entire story is completely unbelievable, but there’s so much detail and the narrator seems so trustworthy that I completely bought it. Surviving alone at sea for 227 days with a tiger aboard your ship? Sure! An island made of teeth? Absurd, but okay! But then at the very end, the narrator confesses that the hyena was the cook, the orangutan was his mother, the zebra was the sailor, and the tiger was Pi! Although he never did explain that carnivorous island…
  1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – That ending! I’m not a big crier, but this one made me teary. It’s really a story of female friendship between Maddie and Julie, a pilot and spy during WW2, respectively. There are dual POVs, one of which is Julie’s confession to her Nazi captors. Throughout most of the book, I thought Julie had given up and handed over her secret codes, but it turns out she was incredibly brave and made up every single one! And at the end, the gut-wrenching part: Maddie is forced to shoot Julie. Ugh!
  1. Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – This narrator is tricky. At first you think Rachel’s just a normal commuter heading into London for her job, but then you learn she’s unemployed, an alcoholic who has frequent blackouts, and has a weird obsession with the couple she observes from the train, of whom the wife goes missing. I spent most of the book thinking Rachel was the murderer, but then she starts remembering things from her blackout, namely her ex-husband with his beyond-awful temper. And the twist ending: Rachel kills her ex-husband with a corkscrew, and his new wife helps!
  1. In the Woods by Tana French – The noir tone fits this narrator to a T. When Rob Ryan is called to investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl near his childhood home, old memories are stirred of an unsolved murder from decades before, one that he was at the heart of, but mysteriously can’t remember. He risks his job, relationship with his partner (who’s a complete badass), and even his sanity to try to solve this murder. The worst part, the killer ends up walking away scot-free at the end. And the 1984 mystery is unresolved, in the best way possible.
  1. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield I highly recommend this book for writers… It’s a wonderful suspense about a famous reclusive author named Vida Winter who finally decides to share her extraordinary life story, and what a story it is! For most of the book, I thought the main character was one of the twins and kept trying to figure out if she was the good or evil one, but at the very end it’s divulged that she’s actually a third sister, the so-called “girl in the mist”! And after one of the twins (you never really find out which one) dies in a fire, Vida takes her identity.
  1. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – The narrator starts her story in the middle. You know there’s some secret tragedy in her family’s history, but you don’t know what it could be. Then the twist comes, refreshingly early on, that Rosemary’s sister was actually a chimpanzee, and her family was part of a scientific study to raise a chimp alongside a human child! The rest of the story is told out of chronological order as Rosemary begins to understand that she was partly responsible for her twin’s disappearance.
  1. Where’d You Go Bernadette – This was such a fun novel, told through emails, newspaper articles, and other documents. Bernadette’s character is so quirky and borderline unstable, you never quite know what to make of her, which makes her disappearance all the more intriguing. Throw in her husband’s illicit affair, her blackberry shrub mudslide, and her escape to Antarctica (of all places) and this was a wonderfully surprising read!

What are some of your favorite plot twists? Are you a fan of unreliable narrators?


Author: Kate Lansing

I write mysteries, YA novels, and short fiction. I also read A LOT, travel as much as possible, and take way too many pictures of my cat.

15 thoughts on “Top 10 Twists”

  1. Interesting take, Kate. Having only read two of the books – I’m putting the Christie on my list – and loving one (In the Woods) and hating the other (Gone Girl) I have to say I’m ambivalent. Some of these books sound so intriguing that I think it’s time I broadened my horizons!


  2. I don’t know how I feel about unreliable narrators, so I haven’t read most of the books on your list (with the exception of Roger Ackroyd). I started Gone Girl, but the characters were so unpleasant to me, I gave up. Perhaps I, like Kait, need to expand my reading list.


  3. I love unreliable narrators, but if I know ahead of time, it ruins the story for me because I’m trying to figure out their angle. I need to go into these mysteries completely blind. Code Name Verity is my favorite on the list.


  4. Kait, hope you enjoy the Murder of Roger Ackroyd! I’m kinda jealous you get to read it for the first time 😉

    Mary, the characters in Gone Girl are definitely unpleasant, which makes the final reveal at the end all that much worse, blech! It’s a tough balance with unreliable narrators and not everyone is a fan. Let me know if you find any you really enjoy!


  5. Kimberly, I’m the exact same way! It’s best to go into those types of books blind. Oh, Code Name Verity is just so good. Have you read the sequel? I haven’t yet, but I’m curious…


  6. I’m imagining at this point agents are saying “not another unreliable narrator” story. They seem to wax and wane in fashion. The first I recall reading was The Other by Tom Tyron (1971) which I read when it was first published. It’s the same creepy twin theme. I’m currently re-reading In The Woods as an exercise studying her prose and you know what? In the very first chapter, the narrator says “I lie” but I glossed over that the first time through thinking yeah, well, sure, he’s a cop, he lies to suspects. (BTW, I think he did it.)


  7. I love unreliable narrators! My first published book, The Drowning of Chittenden (w/a Rebecca Williamson), used an unreliable narrator, although she was a secondary character who threatened to take over the plot. They’re not necessarily unlikable characters nor cheaters. They believe in their world as they see it. Great choices on your list, Kate!


  8. P.S.–almost forgot! Another book I wrote, The Jigsaw Window (w/a Cameron Kennedy), also had an unreliable narrator, the protagonist, a victim of Alzheimer’s, trying to find meaning in her splintering life. Unreliable narrators have much to tell us, I think, in their own ways!


  9. I love a good twist. Like you, I’ll go back and reread just to pick up on the hints. A movie I was so bummed about was Pelham 123. At the end, I turned to my Hubs and said “where’s the twist?”


  10. Ooh, Keenana, I’m curious to hear why you think Rob did it (not that I disagree)! You’ll have to let me know if you pick up on any clues during your rereading 🙂 And you’re absolutely right, unreliable narrators definitely ebb and flow, and the last couple years they’ve been all the rage!

    Peg, totally understandable! Unreliable narrators aren’t for everyone.

    Sue, I’ll have to check out your books! They sound fantastic. Maybe I should try writing an unreliable narrator for fun…it seems like it would bring a whole new set of challenges. And I love what you said: they believe in their world as they see it. A lot of the time, they aren’t even aware of what they don’t know.

    Diane, glad to hear I’m not the only one who rereads to pick up on hints! 🙂 I haven’t seen Pelham 123, but it’s always a bummer if you’re expecting a cool twist and the story doesn’t deliver.


  11. I love a story with a good twist. That is really a big part of what a “mystery” book is — an actual mystery, the unexpected, the surprise. I have read six books on your wonderful list, and loved them all in different ways. I also reread passages to find the clues that I messed.

    I think carefully constructed unreliable narrators can add complexity and color to a story if used appropriately. I also don’t have to “like” characters to enjoy reading a book, but I have to be captivated by the story. I hated all the people in “Girl on a Train” and “Gone Girl” but loved the “story” of both books. Of course I always enjoy anything by Agatha Christy. As for “Where’s You Go Bernadette,” I laughed out loud as I read that one because I have met all those characters in the school parking lot.

    I will try a couple on your list that I have missed. I will also add a couple of my recent favorites to the list for your consideration “Defending Jacob” by William Landay and “The Ex” by Alafair Burke.


  12. 3 no 7 (so fun to know the meaning behind your alias now!), I completely agree with you that unreliable narrators have to be constructed very carefully. I really enjoyed Defending Jacob, although at the same time it was a tough read because the father was so tortured! I especially appreciated how that story was told in a courtroom, but for a completely different case than I thought. Talk about a twist! Adding The Ex to my TBR pile now… Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂


  13. I’ve only read the Agatha Christie book (I’m a mystery reader). The other books might not appeal to me, but since I love spoilers I like this post.


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