9 April 2016

Review: SIX FOUR, Hideo Yokoyama

  • translator: Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 2282 KB
  • Print Length: 599 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (March 3, 2016)
  • Publication Date: March 3, 2016
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B011A0LSKE
 Synopsis (Amazon)

For five days in January 1989, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter's kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again.

For the fourteen years that followed, the Japanese public listened to the police's apologies. They would never forget the botched investigation that became known as 'Six Four'. They would never forgive the authorities their failure.

For one week in late 2002, the press officer attached to the police department in question confronted an anomaly in the case. He could never imagine what he would uncover. He would never have looked if he'd known what he would find.

My Take

The novel opens conventionally enough with police press director Yoshinobu Mikami identifying the corpse of a teenage girl, or rather, noting that the corpse is not that of his own missing daughter. From there the novel takes us back to a cold case - that of an 8 year old girl who went missing 14 years before and was found dead after a large ransom was paid. The Commissioner General from Tokyo is about to visit the family to pay his respects at the family shrine and Mikami is meant to be preparing the press for the visit.

In reality much of the novel is taken up with an internal power struggle in Prefecture D between rival sections of the police force, Criminal Investigations and Administrative Affairs. As the head of Media Relations Mikami is part of Administrative Affairs although he was formerly a top detective in Criminal Investigations.

The directors of these sectors are trying to undermine each other's reputations, each vying for promotion to the central police bureau in Tokyo, each regarding their current position as a demotion to a backwater. Mikami is the meat in the sandwich, constantly being threatened by one side or the other with being sent to an even more remote rural location, and never being a detective ever again. To make matters worse the Press Room has decided to put pressure on both sectors over the question of the use of anonymity in press releases and is demanding that the directors be more open in their disclosures. The police want the right not to disclose the identity of either a victim or a perpetrator. The press want the right to decide on the disclosure at the point of publication.

There are several examples of police coverup of information that would either be damaging to police officials or to political figures. When the Chief Commissioner from Tokyo decides to make local PR visit, Mikami unearths one such damaging coverup when he is trying to set up a visit to the family shrine of a murder victim whose case is still unsolved after 14 years. 

For me the novel emphasised how very different the expectations of Japanese crime fiction readers must be. SIX FOUR is apparently a best selling novel in Japan (it sold a million copies in six days in Japan, according to its publisher) and I suspect many of the issues in the novel have their origins in contemporary Japanese social and political issues. However the result is heavy reading because there is at times detailed discussion and lengthy narration.

Investigations into crimes seem to take a back seat, along with progress into understanding what has happened to Ayumi, Mikami's daughter who has been missing for three months. But then, just when you think the story must be wrapping up, the plot makes a twist, and it is this late plot development that makes all the persistence worth while. This twist cleverly draws all the previous plot lines together. The nature of of the story dramatically changes. And this is what other reviews have given the author accolades for.

This is a novel that demands a lot of the reader, even more I suspect from the Western reader who does not have the same cultural understanding as a Japanese reader. I can't pretend that I understood everything but it certainly qualifies well as an entrant in the Global Reading Challenge.

My rating: 4.5

About the author:

Born in 1957, Hideo Yokoyama worked for twelve years as an investigative reporter with a regional newspaper north of Tokyo, before becoming one of Japan's most acclaimed fiction writers. His exhaustive and relentless work ethic is known to mirror the intense and obsessive behaviour of his characters; and in January 2003 he was hospitalized following a heart attack brought about by working constantly for seventy-two hours. Six Four is his sixth novel, and his first to be published in the English language.

Jonathan Lloyd-Davies studied Japanese at Durham and Chinese at Oxford; he currently works as a translator of Japanese fiction. His translations include Edge by Koji Suzuki, with co-translator Camellia Nieh, the Demon Hunters trilogy by Baku Yumemakura, Gray Men by Tomotake Ishikawa, and Nan-Core by Mahokaru Numata. His translation of Edge received the Shirley Jackson award for best novel. Originally from Wales, he now resides in Tokyo.

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