Since writing the review below, I’ve reread Hidden Bodies and then read (for the first time) You. I didn’t enjoy Hidden Bodies nearly as much on second reading, suggesting that Joe’s behaviour is not so entertaining once the reader knows where it’s leading. Also, having read You forced me to reassess the second book, particularly my assertion that Joe is not a sociopath. The upshot is that the review no longer reflects my opinion of Hidden Bodies but I’ll let it stand as a record of my first impression.
I tend to be suspicious of fiction written in the historic present tense. It often gives the impression that the author has adopted that tense purely as an easy way to suggest unearned immdediacy. Or maybe it’s more that the historic present has become overused. Rather in the same way that, for a long time after Miles Davis, almost all trumpeters seemed to be imitating his sound, I often feel that a writer who uses the historic present is attempting to take a voice off the shelf, instead of developing her own.
So, it’s a testament to the strength of Caroline Kepnes’s writing that I was already into Chapter 5 before I even noticed the tense it’s written in. In common with quite a few books I’ve been reading recently, this one has a homicidal first person narrator. Unlike many such narrators, Joe Goldberg isn’t someone who could accurately be described as a sociopath. He’s well read, knowledgeable and quick thinking but his emotional development has lagged far behind his intellectual capacity. When he kills, it’s usually not out of a failure of empathy but sometimes he gets very angry and the thing that is most likely to make him angry is the suspicion that he’s being taken for a schmuck. And when he’s really angry, he has a distinctly nasty side, even though the rest of the time the reader is rooting for him.
I’ve long thought that where the makers of the tv show Dexter went wrong was in trying to make their killer a psychologically realistic human being, whereas Jeff Lindsay had conceived him more as a (wittily entertaining) vehicle for satire. Here, Kepnes gives us a complex killer with a credible psychology — but without letting go of the wit and the entertainment.
I haven’t yet read the first book in this series in which (I gather) Joe displays his erudition while working in a New York bookshop. In this one, he heads west, ending up in Hollywood and (rather in the manner of Chili Palmer) finds the movie business a surprisingly good fit for his talents. He also falls in love of course but this time, for once, it seems as if his love might be reciprocated, however improbable that might seem.
Four stars hardly seems enough but one has to leave room at the top.
Originally posted on Goodreads, 21-Aug-2016.