Stephen King better watch his back, because Caroline Kepnes is fast becoming one of the genre’s best writers. Her new book, Hidden Bodies, is creepy, freaky, twisted, and insanely fun.
Joe Goldberg is a total nut job. Along with being a narcissist, he’s also a stalker. Oh, and there’s the little issue of him also being a murderer. The author puts the reader right in Joe’s head and, incredibly, writes in such a way that I’d forget what a lunatic he is several times. Of course, those moments of thinking Joe is normal never last long.
His true colors show often, like when he explains how he needs a Facebook account to connect with friends. That sounds normal enough, but keep in mind that Joe doesn’t need to connect with friends the way you or I might desire to. No, Joe decides he needs to connect with friends so that when he kills an ex-lover who betrayed him, his “friends” will be there to have his back should he ever become a suspect.
Interestingly, Hidden Bodies is a love story at its core. Albeit a crazy, insane and warped view of the word’s meaning, it is a tale of passion and emotion about what one mentally ill person believes to be love . Joe loves the only way he knows how, is it really his fault he’s not normal?
On the surface it’s easy to call Joe a psycho – I did several times. But as I’ve already mentioned, the author writes around Joe’s craziness. You will at several points throughout the book actually root for this dude. Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe Kepnes is just that crazy-good. (I really hope it’s the latter!)
The book opens not far from where Kepnes’ last novel, You, left off. Joe has found love once again. Of course, the reader may interpret the woman’s intentions as merely seeking employment, but Joe will quickly set you straight. It is, after all, obvious that she wanted him from the very start.
And by “obvious” I mean she was totally just looking for a job, but Joe’s brain isn’t normal. She wants him, she loves him. He really believes that.
Joe reciprocates what he believes the woman feels for him, but in the end he finds himself betrayed and hurting. I will say, as crazy as this sounds, I actually felt bad for Joe when he realized the woman’s true intentions. It hurt him, and because Kepnes writes in way that makes you feel like you’re stuck in Joe’s head with him, it hurt me too.
Now, that’s where my understanding and sympathies for Joe ended. Following the betrayal, the man wants revenge. Actually, Joe feels entitled to revenge, which is different. So he moves out to California to find the woman who betrayed him and to give her what she deserves – according to him.
Why I loved it
This book wouldn’t work if the main character was all bad, because nobody would want to read that. Therein lies the tightrope that Kepnes walks on with Joe. He’s a murderer, but I still feel bad for the man. How is that even possible? I’m not sure myself, I just know that on the surface he’s human enough that I found myself feeling compassion for him.
Take Joe’s insecurities and trust issues, for instance. Even in love, his fear of being hurt robs him of the joy and happiness that he should be feeling. During one scene Joe’s lover excuses herself to the bathroom. They are at a restaurant and she did what no woman ever does, she left her phone at the table. Joe wants to look through it and see if she’s doing anything secretive. Maybe texting with another man on the side? Who knows what she could be up to.
Reading the scene, I was doing my best to coach Joe through the situation. I willed him, begged him in fact, not to touch the phone. Don’t do it, bro. Don’t do it! Nothing good ever comes from snooping through a woman’s phone, just leave it alone. Unfortunately, Joe did not take my advice. Thankfully, he found nothing to be concerned about on it. However, he also got busted.
We’ve all been there, afraid that the person we have feelings for doesn’t feel the same way back. Joe’s constant worry that he’s not loved will resonate with anyone that’s even been hurt in a relationship. On top of that, he badly wants to fit in with normal people, and he does try to blend in with the crowd as best he can. But at the end of the day, Joe just isn’t like me or you.
Why you should read it
We’re not born perfect. Everyone has fears, anxiety, concerns, questions and insecurities. On top of that, we’ve all experienced pain from a relationship. If you haven’t, either stop lying, or go back to your mommy’s basement!
For that reason you will, like I did, feel for Joe. You’ll also, again like me, beg the guy to make different decisions. And then, when he doesn’t listen, and he gets mad, you won’t be able to put the book down until you find out what he’s going to do next.
Joe carries baggage from his actions in You, so I would recommend reading that first if you haven’t already. But in all honesty, you could pick this up and follow the story just fine. The author provides enough backstory to get you up to speed quickly, but not too much that it bogs the story down.
If you like Stephen King or Paul Cleave, you will adore Caroline Kepnes’ writing style and characters. Joe is a creepy character with enough redeeming qualities to keep the reader bouncing back and forth between supporting and feeling bad for him, to praying he gets arrested and put away for life. It’s a wild ride!
Hidden Bodies is a chilling, twisted thriller, and one heckuva fun read.
Author: Caroline Kepnes
Pages: 448 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release Date: February 23, 2016 (Pre-order now!)