You, the debut novel from Caroline Kepnes was a bit of a slow burn success. Critics and loyal crime fiction devotes like myself latched on early, but it wasn’t until the paperback was released that the buzz really started to build. With that momentum in place, the sequel novel Hidden Bodies is now about to be released. Expanding on the successful tone and topic of You, Hidden Bodies is sure to be another critical and fan favorite.
Like You, Hidden Bodies is very much a character piece. Narrated by the oddly loveable sociopath Joe Goldberg, the novel lulls readers into its web of social satire via a fun and easily accessible style. At the conclusion of You, Joe had already killed a fair number of people and was shocked to feel a new connection with a customer at his bookshop, an ingénue named Amy Adam. Hidden Bodies picks up very soon after this meeting and begins by detailing their developing relationship. As with all things Joe gets involved in, things hardly go as planned and it isn’t long before he is jetting off from New York City to Los Angeles in an effort to track down his wayward paramour.
This new setting offers plenty of opportunities for Joe to get into all types of trouble. Readers of You will remember how succinctly Caroline Kepnes was able to tap into the energy of New York City and distill that for her fans. In Hidden Bodies she does the same for Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas. Kepnes has a knack for evoking location with minimal waste; with just a few words she can tell readers all they need to know about the city.
The title of the novel is a genius example of getting the most out of the fewest words. Calling the novel Hidden Bodies alludes to multiple meanings. Of course, the titular hidden bodies are the very real copses Joe has left – and continues to leave – in his wake, but the concept also represents the guilt Joe carries with him over these murders. Perhaps regret is a better word than guilt; but in either case, the hidden bodies represent untapped potential relationships rather than any real sense of sorrow for the taking of life. Finally, hidden bodies also evokes those secrets we keep within ourselves that are rarely revealed to others. Can Joe get out of his own mind long enough to let someone really get to know him as a person?
Caroline Kepnes excels at wordplay. This trait was evident in You, but really comes into its own in Hidden Bodies. Reading one of these books is like having a game night with both Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers. One of the new characters is named Love and Kepnes has a ball with double entendres tied to the word. For example, at one point Joe remarks about how “sex is better if you’re in Love.” Adolescent humor such as this further defines the stunted nature of Joe Goldberg’s social development – but it is also damn funny stuff.
Caroline Kepnes is a former reporter for Entertainment Weekly, so it will come as no surprise that she also continues her tradition of name-dropping cultural touchstones throughout the novel. In Hidden Bodies she mentions everything from Tinder to Chateau Marmont to Airbnb and beyond. Celebrity names are evoked not only to authenticate locale, but also to short-hand archetypes of the era and area. The surface-oriented nature of Los Angeles just feeds into Joe’s desire to focus on the frivolous things in life, eschewing anything that requires deep thought or complex communication.
Joe’s literal journey West only highlights the fact that humans really cannot run from their true nature; it will always catch up to you – and usually at the most inopportune time. The real challenge of life is finding someone whose baggage does not clash with your own. For a person like Joe Goldberg, that might be a task that is ultimately unachievable . . . or is it? Read Caroline Kepnes’ Hidden Bodies and allow yourself to once again slip into the mind of a sociopath – doing so will only confirm how close each of us really is to crossing that line on a daily basis.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.