Skip to main content

Hidden Bodies


Hidden Bodies

HIDDEN BODIES is one of those genre-bending books that defies ready --- or even deliberate --- characterization. You may be forgiven if you picked it up thinking it was a crime or thriller novel. It certainly has elements of those genres, as well as romance and contemporary fiction. I probably would ultimately attempt to place it in the latter of those categories, given that it is a marked and bitingly accurate portrayal of the self-absorbed and sociopathic who seem to have multiplied over the past two decades and congregate in areas of every major city with a self-congratulatory style of hipness.

In my hometown metropolitan area of Columbus, you’ll find them in the “Short North.” In New Orleans, they’re in the Faubourg Marigny or the CBD. In Atlanta, they’re located in Buckhead. I’m sure you can fill in the blank wherever you live. HIDDEN BODIES is (primarily) set in Los Angeles, which seems to be the home spawn of these creatures, and author Caroline Kepnes writes of them with laser-like accuracy.

"HIDDEN BODIES is a dark, fun and frightening character study that deeply (and I do mean deeply) explores the hypocrisy of the trendsetters of the moment and those who follow them."

The tip of the Kepnes spear, if you will, is multiple killer Joe Goldberg, who was introduced in YOU, her debut novel. Joe is a thirty-something male who is a babe magnet, yet is eternally disappointed by his catches. He certainly doesn’t intend to kill them, but that is what usually happens for one reason or another. He has murdered four or five (depending on who is counting) in the past decade, and has either successfully made them disappear or placed the blame on someone else. Given that Joe narrates the events of the book in the first person present tense, we get a bit of insight into his self-justification of his actions. What’s chilling is that after a little while, you find yourself taking his point before stepping back from the precipice.

Joe, the manager of a used bookstore in New York, seemingly meets his emotional match in HIDDEN BODIES. He falls head over heels, only to discover that he has been played, and ever so badly. He utilizes a combination of chicanery and social media to determine where his erstwhile soulmate has run off to (it’s so easy these days, isn’t it?) and abruptly leaves his long-held position to move to Los Angeles. The bitter and hilarious comparisons between the Big Apple and the City of Angels come quickly and furiously, with the latter getting the bad end of Joe’s very sharp stick. It isn’t long before he finds reason to murder someone, and staging it to appear to be a death by suicide or misadventure, even as he is driven to exact a slow revenge against the woman who jilted him.

Then the unexpected happens. Joe finds Love, but also finds himself in trouble. He makes a couple of mistakes --- those who have things to hide should stay away from social media --- and commits what for him is a sin of omission, insofar as he doesn’t do what he should do, even when what he should do is wrong. Or right. Or something like that. Along the way, however, you don’t want to miss a word of HIDDEN BODIES, not even ones that are usually minced. Kepnes uses them, and the last time I checked, she hadn’t been struck by lightning or boycotted on campus. Is her use a bit gratuitous? Yes, but so what? It’s consistent with Joe’s character, which is complicated, to say the least.

HIDDEN BODIES is a dark, fun and frightening character study that deeply (and I do mean deeply) explores the hypocrisy of the trendsetters of the moment and those who follow them. It put me in the mind of a very dark, twisted version of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, particularly because the Holden of the piece, then as now, doesn’t have a clue. Recommended for that daughter of yours who runs with the fast crowd.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 3, 2016

Hidden Bodies
by Caroline Kepnes