Lydia's Lowdown Reviews Hidden Bodies, by Caroline Kepnes

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Predator becomes prey in this outstanding follow up to You.

 

The mug of DNA-laden urine he left behind doesn’t bother Joe so much anymore.

Not now that he has Amy.

He knows their path forward couldn’t be any brighter. Joe can see their future so clearly. They can run the bookshop together. Get married, one day. Maybe even have kids. But Joe doesn’t forget to live in the moment. He makes sure Amy knows she’s loved and cherished every single millisecond they spend together. They share so much in common. Joe just knows it was meant to be.

Too bad Amy won’t let perfection last.

She exits their relationship spectacularly, taking with her a massive stack of expensive books she urged Joe to buy for the bookshop. She leaves only one behind, as if to mock Joe for the depth of his feeling. Or perhaps it’s the future they could’ve shared that Amy derides; a future she just can’t get behind.

 Poor Amy. She doesn’t understand who Joe is. What he’s done.  What he’ll do again, if he ever finds her.

Make no mistake about it, Joe will find her. And then he’ll take care of her. Like he took care of his former flame-turned-fraud Beck, and her wannabe partner, Peach. Pesky Peach, in whose closet he left a mug of urine. He drowned Peach shortly after, but that one loose end still haunts him from time to time. Yet just as Amy’s arrival took away Joe’s fear, so does her abrupt departure. She gives Joe a mission. Amy thought she was so smart, keeping all the details of her life offline. But she made a crucial mistake when she used Joe’s laptop. An aspiring actress, she had to check for possible gigs before she left him. She was dumb enough to believe she’d cleared the history thoroughly. Just as stupid as she was to assume Joe could easily be taken advantage of.

He can’t be. He won’t be.

So Joe tracks Amy to Los Angeles, where he immediately loses her trail. But Joe is patient. He knows how to recruit people to help him do his dirty work. If Joe has one flaw, it is this: he’s used to winning. His sudden and complete lack of success in finding Amy – even with newly befriended minions working on his behalf – infuriates him.

Distraction soon arrives in the form of Love, a gorgeous older women with money, contacts all over Hollywood, and the power that comes with having those contacts. The money and power, Joe could care less about. It’s the sex appeal Love oozes that he’s attracted to. That and the fact that Love is incapable of hating anyone for anything – she’s truly his opposite, in every single way.

They hook up. Joe gets acquainted with her drug addled brother Forty, an aspiring screenwriter Joe soon realizes has not one iota of talent. He meets her parents, both of whom wholeheartedly approve of Joe, and soon, through Love and her family, the high life is offered up on a silver platter to Joe. He takes it. And somewhere along the way, in the midst of all the decadence and luxury, Joe forgets about Amy.

What he doesn’t forget is how to kill.

Who he might kill and why, I’ll keep secret. What’s no longer a secret is Kepnes uncanny ability to put her readers inside the mind of a sociopath. But Kepnes doesn’t stop there; no, she aims at a much more difficult target: constructing a world in which readers can actually empathize with killer Joe. That she hits the bull’s-eye in this, her second outing with Joe (if you haven’t checked out her stellar debut, You, stop reading this review immediately and go read it instead) is a feat  made more impressive by the sympathy she effortlessly engenders in readers towards the characters Joe plans to kill.

Enticing the reader to sympathize with both predator and prey is a fine line to straddle, to be sure.  But Kepnes doesn’t just straddle it; she tames it before galloping off into the sunset (where this reader hopes she’s busily plotting another Joe-centric novel).

Empathy isn’t even Kepnes’s most incredible achievement in Hidden Bodies. No, her greatest accomplishment is this: Joe the sociopath actually grows throughout the course of the novel. In the beginning readers must contend with Joe’s immaturity and cringe at his willingness to leap first without looking; we dread his stubborn refusal to face the consequences as they come.  Yet astonishingly, as the book unfolds, Joe’s childishness is slowly but surely replaced by a look-before-you-leap mentality that evolves as Joe finally finds exactly what he’s been looking for all along. He’s not mastered it all though. No, Joe has one more lesson left to learn.

Finding what you’ve been looking for is easy.

Keeping it is not.

 

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