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Literature / False Memory

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False Memory is a 1999 novel by author Dean Koontz.

Martie Rhodes is a successful, Happily Married video game designer, who one day abruptly becomes terrified of her own reflection, and then of herself. She grabs everything that could conceivably be turned in to a weapon out of her house and throws it away in a complete frenzy, and is taken by her concerned husband, Dusty, to see the psychiatrist currently treating her best friend for agoraphobia. Dusty himself has been experiencing odd bits of Missing Time, and his brother Skeet has recently tried to commit a rather bizarre suicide.

The whole situation seems weird, almost supernatural, but the truth is even weirder and a good deal more twisted. Their good doctor, they discover, is not what he seems….

For the trope, see Fake Memories.


This book provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Dusty and Skeet's are pretty damn terrible. Skeet even refuses to call his mother anything other than her first name.
  • All Gays Are Pedophiles: Dr. Closterman is blackmailed with a tape of a child claiming to have been sexually abused by him, and Dr. Closterman fears his homosexuality would lead to this trope being put into play. Averted, however, in that the child was brainwashed into making the tape and that neither he nor his partner would ever dream of hurting a child.
  • Author Tract: Koontz has a low opinion of the field of psychology and in psychiatric therapy in particular. The book exists to demonize both.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Ahriman. He's handsome and most definitely beyond a bastard. Likewise with Claudette, an utterly heartless knockout. Averted with Dusty, Martie, and Susan, who are all genuinely good people.
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  • Book Dumb: Ahriman makes the mistake of thinking Martie and Dusty are this, because she's a game designer and he's a house painter. He's wrong, fortunately for them and unfortunately for him.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Most of Ahriman's patients, not just the ones we see.
  • Broken Bird: Susan. Good God, Susan. Systematically broken, too.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Skeet and Fig are smart enough to put these on before they go Ahriman-hunting. Turns out, they need it.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Dusty's older sister Dominique, who had Down Syndrome, was officially a crib death. Dusty accuses their mother of intentionally killing her because of her condition. Claudette does not deny this accusation.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Dusty eventually does this with his mother and stepfather. The entire reason Ahriman set out to destroy him, Martie, and Skeet was because the stepfather had been trying to academically humiliate him for years. To the point of literally trolling the reviews of his books on
  • Caught on Tape: How Susan figures out Ahriman's the one who keeps breaking into her apartment and raping her without her knowledge—and how he does it. He figures out what she's done and goes back to Mind Rape her into destroying the tape (and the camera), but not before she puts out a call to Martie.
  • Character Name Alias: Ahriman. Not only is his last name identical to the name of the chief figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, when he travels, he uses aliases that have two things in common: very ordinary first names, and last names that are the name of the Devil. One example is "Jim Shaitan," Shaitan being one of the names for the Devil in Islam.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Manchurian Candidate. Reading it is what first clues Dusty in to the fact that Ahriman's been screwing around with all their heads.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Skeet has shades of this at times, mostly caused by his years of drug abuse.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Fig Newton, so very much.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Fig again. He gives Martie and Dusty an impressive array of guns to choose from, and even helps them conceal it so they can safely take it on a plane.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Ahriman keeps his father's eyes preserved in a jar of formaldehyde.
  • Daddy's Girl: Martie. Her continuing optimism stems from her wish to honor his memory.
  • Disappeared Dad: Both Dusty's and Skeet's dads are out of the picture, having been divorced by their mother while they were quite young. Neither can stand their biological fathers, so they don't really mind.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Ned Motherwell was a teenager, the meth-cooking neighbor next door killed his mother's cat. He responded by breaking both the guy's legs, then calling 911 and pretending to be the victim. The meth head sent a friend to shoot him, so Ned broke his arms, threw him into a ravine, and then called the police. Dusty and Martie, hearing this, feel quite secure in leaving their beloved dog with him.
    Dusty: All this for a cat?
    Ned: Mrs. Jingles was a nice cat. Plus she was my mom's.
  • The Ditz: Ahriman mistakenly believes his Keanuphobe, as he calls her, is one. It backfires horribly.
  • Driven to Suicide: Susan, once Dr. Ahriman figures out she’s got his number. He tries to do this to Skeet, but fails.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Skeet’s real name is Holden Caulfield, after his father. He hated his biological father and his given name. Dusty's given name is Sherwood.
    • The kicker? Holden Sr. changed his name to that in the first place. It's one of many jabs Koontz makes at what he sees as pretentious academia and dangerous elitism, seen in Dusty and Skeet's mother's choice of husbands overall.
  • Emotion Eater: Ahriman's fascination with misery comes across as this. He gets his sick kicks from watching people cry and drinking their tears.
  • The Everyman: Martie and Dusty.
  • Evil Genius: Mark Ahriman. He was a child prodigy, went to college in his teens, and invented all the best brainwashing techniques. He's also a murderer and rapist.
  • Foreshadowing: When taking Susan to an appointment with Ahriman, Martie's struck with an inexplicable feeling that she and Susan are some kind of Frodo and Sam, on their way to face Shelob. Turns out, she's metaphorically right.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Bellon-Tockland Institute, the psychiatric/political think tank for whom Mark Ahriman developed his mind control method. As a reward, they let him alone of their members use it for personal amusement (gruesomely executing another member who did the same) and have used their connections to threaten potential witnesses to his past misdeeds. However, they never get around to acting in the book itself before Ahriman is dealt with, after which they publicly deny any connection to him.
    • Except that they are the ones who send two hired guns to take care of Martie and Dusty during their trip to Santa Fe late in the book.
  • Happily Married: Martie and Dusty. Even if Martie's mother isn’t happy about it at first.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Ahriman, eventually. He has a patient with a pathological fear of Keanu Reeves, and to get her out of his hair for a while (since his life is rapidly falling apart), he convinces her the Matrix is in fact real, and she needs to hide for a while. It works, but unfortunately for him she decides he's an Agent and shoots him in his office. Oops.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Skeet, fortunately saved by his brother Dusty and a handy mattress.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ned Motherwell.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Ahriman does this a lot.
  • Manchurian Agent: Again, most of Ahriman's patients.
  • Meaningful Name: Ahriman, named after the personification of evil.
  • Mind Rape: Lots and lots of it. Being able to Mind Rape people is a large part of why Ahriman went into practice to begin with. Is also used positively, when Dusty and Martie deprogram one another and Skeet.
  • Missing Time: Dusty notices this happening quite early on in the book. Fortunately, he eventually figures out why.
  • My Beloved Smother: Martie seems to think of her mother like this, a little. Doesn’t help that for a long time she gives off the impression she hates Dusty. Turns out she's just worried that Martie will lose him early, since he’s in what she considers a dangerous profession. (He’s a housepainter, of all things.)
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Ahriman, again. See Meaningful Name above.
  • Offing the Offspring: Claudette gave birth to four children (in chronological order) - Dominique, Dusty, Skeet, and Derek Jr. The three sons are still alive, while Dominique, who had Down's syndrome, died in infancy of a supposed crib death. During a confrontation, Dusty expresses the belief that Claudette murdered her first-born for her genetic disorder. No one present, even Claudette herself, even tries to argue against this theory. Dusty also calls her out on an incident he witnessed at about age five, when he saw his mother approaching newborn Skeet (who had been premature) holding a pillow in a menacing way. She doesn't deny this incident, either. Dominique's death is part of the reason for Ahriman's hatred for Claudette and her family, since he was Dominique's biological father.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several characters go through that. Dusty and Martie’s comes when they figure out they’ve been brainwashed, and Ahriman when he discovers Susan left a message about him on Martie’s answering machine before he drove her to suicide.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Ahriman pretty much thinks of people as toys. He spends time playing his sick games with them, and when they no longer amuse him, he breaks and disposes of them.
    • Derek Jr. shows symptoms of heading in this direction.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Ahriman.
  • Rape as Drama: Ahriman and Susan. As is typical with Koontz, it's not in the least explicit, but good grief, is it creepy.
  • Rich Bitch: Claudette, Dusty and Skeet's mother.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Ahriman. A lot of Koontz’s villains like to off their parents.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Susan, ultimately. She sold Ahriman his house, and the only reason he decided to destroy her psyche was because she was so pretty.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Ahriman for Martie, briefly. Fortunately for her, Dusty’s already de-programmed her by the time the doctor sees her again.
  • Straight Gay: Dr. Closterman isn't even hinted to be gay until Brian is introduced. Brian for that matter appears to be this as well.
  • Sockpuppet: Derek Lampton, Dusty and Skeet's stepfather. He trolls the Amazon review section of Ahriman's books, posting negative reviews under various fake names and e-mail addresses.
  • Tomboyish Name: Martie.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Ahriman has his father's eyes in a jar. Not as a reminder of some past wrong, however, but rather because he killed his father and stole his father's eyes in an attempt to understand his own inability to cry, and his subsequent fetish for tears.
  • Trigger Phrase: How Ahriman controls his patients. First he speaks a name to induce the trance, then he leads them through a haiku to allow them to be programmed.
  • The Unfavorite: Somehow, both Dusty and Skeet have managed to become this. Given that neither can stand their parents, they don’t seem too upset.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Skeet attempts to throw himself off a rooftop at the beginning of the novel. Foster Newton just carries on working.