67 pages 2 hours read

Caroline Kepnes

Hidden Bodies

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


Hidden Bodies is a 2016 thriller by author Caroline Kepnes. Lauded by acclaimed horror writer Stephen King and Entertainment Weekly, Hidden Bodies is the second book in the You series, which is preceded by the novel You. The You series has been adapted into a popular Netflix series that follows the books’ major beats but varies in some of the details.

Hidden Bodies is a thriller but also serves as a satirical look at the nature of fame, social media, emotional unavailability, love, and codependence.

Content Warning: This novel depicts intimate partner violence and emotional abuse, substance use disorder, and mentions suicide.

Plot Summary

Joe Goldberg is the novel’s protagonist and a serial killer living in New York City. He is in what he assumes is a happy relationship with a woman named Amy Adam. Joe’s infatuation with Amy allows him to move past his failed relationship with Guinevere Beck—a woman he killed in the previous novel in the series. Soon, Amy proves to be a manipulative thief. Amy understands Joe’s infatuation with her and uses it against him. She steals from Joe after breaking into the basement at Mr. Mooney’s bookstore, where Joe works. When he finds that Amy left the East Coast for Hollywood, Joe quits his job and goes to LA to find and kill her. After he arrives, he joins Facebook and Twitter and begins hunting her. Simultaneously, he meets Delilah, a fame-obsessed woman who lives in the apartment complex Joe moves into. Joe sleeps with Delilah occasionally but primarily uses her to make connections in the community.

Delilah connects Joe to a celebrity named Henderson; he is the host of a popular web show called F@ck Narcissism. At a party at Henderson’s mansion, Henderson does a comedic bit about his girlfriend named Amy, who constantly mocked her ex-boyfriend’s lack of sexual talents. Joe realizes Henderson must be dating Amy, so he kills Henderson for indirectly mocking him, even though Henderson admits that he tied to date Amy, but she rejected him. Joe makes Henderson’s death look like a suicide.

Joe eventually finds Amy when she tries to sell a rare book—Portnoy’s Complaint, one of Joe’s favorite novels—at the store where he works. She recognizes him and vanishes before he can confront her. During this period, he meets Love Quinn, a producer who is the wealthy daughter of Lottie and Ray Quinn, the magnates who created The Pantry chain of grocery stores. Love and Joe soon fall in love, but their relationship is complicated by her twin brother, Forty, an erratic, self-loathing person with a substance use disorder.

At a family dinner, Joe meets a man named Milo, who shares a past with Love. Milo sells a movie script and casts himself and Love as the romantic leads. After, Love treats Joe differently, showing Milo preferential treatment at Henderson’s memorial. Despite his misgivings, Joe goes to Palm Springs with them to be on set during the shoot. He becomes increasingly agitated by the affection Milo shows to Love and at the amount of kissing scenes Milo writes into the movie. Eventually, Love chooses to be with Joe instead of participating in an explicitly sexual scene in Milo’s movie.

After shooting wraps, a police officer named Robin Fincher appears. Earlier in the novel, Fincher gives Joe a ticket for jaywalking. Wary of Fincher’s interest in him, Joe lures him to Mexico, where the Quinns are holding a party to celebrate the conclusion of filming. Joe traps Fincher in a glass-walled panic room in a house that is under construction and owned by Axl Rose. After accusing him of stalking celebrities, Joe watches Fincher throw himself against the wall of the panic room with such force that the impact kills him. Joe buries him under a cactus in the front yard. Back in California, Joe and Forty begin writing scripts together, although Joe does the vast majority of the work. Forty sells two of the scripts but refuses to give Joe a writing credit. Joe pursues Forty to Las Vegas after he disappears on a bender. Joe tells Love that he is going to find her brother for her, but he plans to kill Forty when he finds him. Joe drugs Forty and holds him underwater at a spring, believing he has killed Forty. Next, Joe goes to Little Compton to get a mug—the last piece of evidence in a house where he killed a key character in the previous novel.

Love surprises Joe at a hotel while he is trying to figure out how to infiltrate the home where he left the mug. Joe tells Love the truth about himself. She locks him in a bathroom while she retrieves the mug, although he thinks she is locking him in to call the police. Love forgives Joe because she does not believe that hating anyone is ever justified. She tells him that Forty has always been an outsider. He killed the family’s puppy because it loved her more than him, and she has always blamed people for not loving Forty more. After the confession, Joe and Love expect to have a happy future together, particularly when she reveals that she is pregnant.

Forty resurfaces. Joe’s attempt to murder him failed. Forty blackmails Joe into writing for him, but the coercion ends soon when Forty dies after being hit by a tourist’s car while jaywalking. Joe writes a moving eulogy for Forty and delivers it at his funeral, which grants him the approval of Reese Witherspoon, Susan Sarandon, and other celebrities. Joe encounters Amy Adam on a beach and decides to spare her life, rather than risk the potential consequences of killing her.

Shortly after, Joe proposes to Love in a Taco Bell, where police arrest him for a murder committed in the previous novel. However, Joe and Love have kept their stories straight, and he does not think the police will have enough evidence to convict him. He considers himself a retired killer and looks forward to life with Love and his child.

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Related Titles

By Caroline Kepnes