The first week in August each year is National Missing Persons Week, a week of action to address the startlingly high number of open missing persons cases in Australia. Each year, tens of thousands of people are reported missing; while, fortunately, around 80% of them are located within a week of a report being made, too many vanish. This is a unique opportunity to raise awareness of people who are missing, and the issues faced by their loved ones who search for them. I’m doing my part with this list of fiction and non-fiction books about missing persons cases.

23 Books About Missing Persons Cases - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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If you have information about a person who may be missing, report it straight away to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall - Liane Moriarty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Apples Never Fall is exactly what you’d expect of a Liane Moriarty novel: perfectly paced and totally readable, with town gossip and parallel timelines that keep you guessing. But instead of a particularly violent crime or broken marriage at its heart, Moriarty centres this one around a family falling apart after the disappearance of its matriarch. Joy had no reason to vanish into thin air, but she did, and she is sorely missed. One nosy detective is particularly determined to find her, no matter how many family secrets she has to dig out of the closet to do so. Read my full review of Apples Never Fall here.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie - Courtney Summers - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Even if you read a lot of books about missing persons cases, Sadie will probably take you by surprise – if for no other reason than the person who is missing gets to narrate one side of the story. She reveals pretty early on where exactly she’s gone “missing” to: she’s on the hunt for the man she believes killed her little sister, and she plans to give him a taste of his own medicine. She also has a stutter, which makes her internal monologue particularly powerful; what she’s not able to physically say out loud, she can share with the reader. This is a moving and intense story, suitable for older-young adults and adult-adults alike. Read my full review of Sadie here.

The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman In Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Imagine you know that someone’s gone missing – that’s scary in and of itself, right? Ruth Ware doubles down on that premise in The Woman In Cabin 10, by having everyone around the protagonist insist that her fellow traveller isn’t actually missing. This story is reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Hitchcockian films where the fear comes not just from not being able to trust anyone around you, but not being able to trust your own mind. Plus, there’s the locked-room aspect of the cruise ship setting, meaning that the culprit of a violent crime must be on board.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is In Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

At first glance, Fleishman Is In Trouble looks like your stock-standard New York divorce novel, but by the end of the first chapter, you’ll realise that this is one of the most compelling books about missing persons cases you’ll find on the literary fiction shelf. Toby Fleishman’s single life comes to an abrupt halt when his soon-to-be ex-wife drops their kids off at his apartment in the middle of the night and disappears. She won’t answer calls or texts, and her assistant won’t tell Toby where she is or when she’s coming back. Forced to reckon with both his kids and his emotional baggage without support, Toby thinks he’s got it tough – but there’s two sides to this fascinating story. Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake House - Kate Morton - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Kate Morton has said she was inspired to write The Lake House, her fascinating book about a missing persons case stretching back decades, by the real-life mystery of the Beaumont children. In Morton’s fictional version, an infant goes missing in 1933 during a Midsummer Eve party, and the house gardener is blamed (though he is never caught or charged). In 2003, a police detective on “enforced leave” stumbles across the now abandoned home, and learns of the unsolved disappearance. She finds herself drawn into the mystery, and can’t help asking questions. Read my full review of The Lake House here.

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing - Patrick Radden Keefe - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Say Nothing is one of the essential books about missing persons cases, in that it shines a light on the disturbing history of “disappearances” during the Troubles. In 1972, Jean McConville, a 38-year-old widowed mother of ten(!), was abducted from her Belfast home and never seen alive again. No one has ever been officially brought to justice for her abduction and murder. Through this unsolved case, Keefe explores the sectarian violence that has divided Ireland, and specifically the culture of silence that underpins the social contract in all areas of Irish life as a result. Read my full review of Say Nothing here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you want books about missing persons cases with big twist reveals… well, you’ve probably already read Gone Girl, but it’s worth mentioning all the same. This super-mega-best selling thriller starts as many others do, with a bright and charming young woman going missing and her husband under suspicion. However, about halfway through, the truth behind Amazing Amy’s disappearance is revealed, and it completely changes everything you thought you knew about the case. This one is as propulsive as it is shocking, and iconic. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns - John Green - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Paper Towns is your standard coming-of-age story for the most part, but the personal growth for Quentin “Q” Jacobsen comes through his search for the enigmatic girl next door. He’s “loved” Margot Roth Spiegelman from afar for years, so when she vanishes and leaves behind a trail of clues, he can’t help but follow them. Of course, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit to fully enjoy this young adult novel (I’ve never met a teenager with enough foresight to leave complex metaphorical breadcrumbs when they run away, and, indeed, why would they? The whole point of running away is, y’know, to not get caught!), but it’s a sweet example of books about missing persons cases with a happy ending. Read my full review of Paper Towns here.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing - Emma Healey - Keeping Up With The Penguins

How can you find a missing person when your own memory can’t be trusted? You can’t be sure when she went missing, or why, and your memories of what happened to her are getting muddled up with what happened to your sister decades ago. This is the predicament of Maud in Elizabeth Is Missing, a story about a woman with dementia searching for her missing friend. Even with all the things her failing mind is taking from her, Maud clings to the memory of her friend Elizabeth and resolves to find her – whatever it takes. It’s a heart-wrenching one, obviously, but a beautiful novel all the same.

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Here’s another one of the super-mega-best-seller books about missing persons cases: The Girl On The Train. A bereft woman descending into alcoholism rides the train every day, looking into the lives of people who live along the track – that’s how she notices when one of them, a young woman, goes missing. Would anyone believe her if she told them? The story unfolds with three different narrators offering their perspectives in turn, each of them providing a piece of the puzzle. This is a disorienting, but compelling, mystery thriller. Read my full review of The Girl On The Train here.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

I Kissed Shara Wheeler - Casey McQuiston - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You remember what it was like to have your first kiss, don’t you? Especially if you were a teenager at the time! The heady rush, the butterflies, the nerves, the excitement… But what if the person you kissed went missing right after? How far would you go to find them? That’s the conceit of I Kissed Shara Wheeler. The titular Shara Wheeler disappears after being kissed by aspiring school valedictorian Chloe Green (among others). She left behind a series of annoyingly cryptic notes, and Chloe has to assemble a team of unlikely allies in the quest to track her down. As far as books about missing persons cases go, this is one of the most lighthearted and delightful of the bunch. Read my full review of I Kissed Shara Wheeler here.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The Chain - Adrian McKinty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Adrian McKinty has cited an interesting mish-mash of sources as inspiration for The Chain. It seems he combined stories missing persons cases triggered by cartel kidnappings, and the strange chain letter trend of his youth. Reading it, you can see how these ideas melded together in his mind. A woman receives a phone call telling her that her daughter has been kidnapped (terrifying, in and of itself), and to ensure her safe return, she must kidnap another person’s child. She’s on “the chain” now, and there’s no way off it but to do what the kidnappers say. It’s a book about missing persons cases with a high-stakes ethical dilemma at its core. Read my full review of The Chain here.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

The Sanatorium - Sarah Pearse - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Books about missing persons cases and locked room mysteries seem kind of antithetical… but here we are! The Sanatorium manages to do both, with a woman going missing (during her engagement celebrations, no less) at a remote mental asylum remodelled as a luxury hotel. Yes, there’s a lot at play in this story, but traumatised Detective Elin’s search for her brother’s missing fiance is the driving force in the narrative. Read my full review of The Sanatorium here.

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Picnic At Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Picnic At Hanging Rock is one of the most iconic books about missing persons cases in Australian literary history. The story follows a group of girls from the Appleyard College for Young Ladies on a sunny Valentine’s Day in 1900, as they set out for a picnic that goes terribly wrong. Three girls climb into a secluded volcanic outcropping, and mysteriously vanish into thin air. This spooky and intriguing masterpiece has spawned fantastic film and television adaptations, and readers still share theories as to what might have happened to the girls (given the book’s notoriously open-ended conclusion).

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13 - Jon McGregor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reservoir 13 is a strange book – to read and to describe. It shouldn’t be, as it’s got all the key ingredients of favourite books about missing persons cases. There’s a rural village setting, a chilly winter, and (of course) a missing girl. Rebecca Shaw is thirteen years old, in the area on holidays with her family, and she has disappeared. The townspeople gather to search the moors, and reporters descend on their small town. Jon McGregor uses all the tropes to lull us into a false sense of familiarity, before up-ending our expectations completely. This book isn’t about what you think it’s about. Read my full review of Reservoir 13 here.

Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

Instructions For A Heatwave - Maggie O'Farrell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When Instructions For A Heatwave begins, Gretta thinks that it’s any ordinary day: her husband wakes up, goes out to get the paper… except he never returns. His disappearance is the catalyst for a family reunion, of sorts, as Gretta and her grown children come together to try and figure out what the heck has happened. It’s a story full of family secrets, simmering resentments, and emotional claustrophobia. You’ll find this one smack bang in the middle of the Venn diagram of the “popular” and the “literary”, a rich family drama with a curious missing persons case to draw you in. Read my full review of Instructions For A Heatwave here.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi

Missing, Presumed Dead - Mark Tedeschi - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan came from opposite sides of Sydney. They were both (very) comfortably middle class, but other than that they had little in common. They ran in different circles, they had different hobbies, they never met. So, how did they both vanish without a trace, never to be seen again? Missing, Presumed Dead is one of the more recent Australian books about missing persons cases, with Mark Tedeschi (the Crown Prosecutor of both cases) providing a lot of insight into the machinations of the criminal justice system when someone goes missing. Read my full review of Missing, Presumed Dead here.

Remember Me by Charity Norman

Remember Me - Charity Norman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The thing about missing persons cases is that there’s always the chance someone who knows something will let it slip someday. That’s what happens in Remember Me. When Emily Kirkland returns to her small hometown to care for her aging father, she realises he might know more than he’s let on about the disappearance of Leah Patara. Leah’s disappearance rocked the town twenty-five years previously, and now, through the mists of her father’s failing memory, Emily is getting glimpses of what might have happened to her. The thing is, does she really want to know? Is closure for Leah’s family worth ruining her father’s final moments, if there’s a chance he might have had something to do with it? Read my full review of Remember Me here.

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Cry is, hands down, one of the most brilliantly plotted books about missing persons cases I’ve ever read. The premise evokes Madeline McCann, for the tender age of the child who goes missing and the worldwide scrutiny of the parents in the case, but also Azaria Chamberlain for its Australian setting. It’s a modern take on the missing child, told in the style of Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn (if you’re fans of their books, you definitely want to pick this one up). It’s a dark, psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma, perfect for anyone who enjoys a story about good people doing bad things. Read my full review of The Cry here.

The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue

The Temple House Vanishing - Rachel Donohue - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Twenty-five years ago, a teenage student of Temple House vanished, along with her enigmatic and charming art teacher. In the (roughly) present day, a journalist with a childhood connection to the girl decides to investigate. She uncovers multiple stories of unrequited love, artistic passion, obsession, fantasy, and betrayal. That’s the premise of The Temple House Vanishing, the debut novel from Irish writer Rachel Donohue. It might sound like your standard book about a missing persons case, but Donohue manages to use a well-worn plot to interrogate all manner of very literary themes. Read my full review of The Temple House Vanishing here.

The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings

The Women Could Fly - Megan Giddings - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When The Women Could Fly begins, Josephine Thomas isn’t sure that witchcraft actually exists. It could be a lie perpetrated by the authorities to keep women oppressed. Of greater concern is her mother being declared dead, after she disappeared off the face of the earth fourteen years ago. She left concerning, mysterious instructions in her Will that Josephine must follow to the letter in order to collect her inheritance, and put the past behind her. What follows is a strange story about witchcraft, feminism, and forging unique paths in societies that don’t tolerate them. Read my full review of The Women Could Fly here.

Big Lies In A Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Big Lies In A Small Town - Diane Chamberlain - Book on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I wouldn’t blame you for glancing at Big Lies In A Small Town and writing it off as another in the litany of potboiler books about missing persons cases with historical fiction bents. But you’d be wrong, as I was when I did the very same thing! The story centers around a Depression-era mural: the woman commissioned to paint it (who disappeared under mysterious circumstances), and the woman charged with restoring it for installation, nearly eight decades later. It’s fictional, but the town of Edenton and the themes Chamberlain explores (race, privilege, and opportunity) are very real. Don’t skip past this one at the airport – it’s worth it! Read my full review of Big Lies In A Small Town here.

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Mother May I - Joshilyn Jackson - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Bree is 38 years old, she uses canvas bags, she’s a former board member of several charities, and she’s a doting mother to two teenage daughters and a “surprise” infant son. Her perfect life is shattered when she looks away for just a moment, and her son is taken. The phone rings: “Go home. Tell no one. Do not call the police. Do not call your husband. Be at your house by 5:15pm or he’s gone for good.” It’s a nightmare scenario, truly the worst of the worst – Mother May I is one of the books about missing persons cases that will strike fear in the heart of every new parent. Read my full review of Mother May I here.

If you have information about a person who may be missing, report it straight away to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.