riverrun books, 2017
translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
Let's just get this out of the way -- Six Four is not an average thriller, nor is it an average police procedural; there are no kick-ass heroines or scenes of over-the-top violence to be found anywhere in this book. I finished it in one go in a major overnight, insomnia-fueled reading session and my reaction was this: hooray (!) for something new, something delightfully different, and above all, for an intelligent mystery novel that goes well beyond the standard crime fiction fare -- in short, the sort of thing I crave but don't find much in modern mysteries and crime these days.
Set in 2002, Six Four is the story of Mikami, the director of Media Relations in the police department in D Prefecture. He used to work as a detective and was on the team investigating the kidnapping and later the death of Shoko, a little girl back in 1989. Mikami understands the devastation of the loss of a child, since his own daughter Ayumi simply disappeared one day and aside from a few silent phone calls which Mikami's wife swears must have been their daughter calling just to hear their voices, has neither been seen nor heard of since. The 1989 case was never solved, and from that time on, it has been referred to as "Six Four" because it took place in the Showa year 64. It was also billed as the "Prefectural HQ's greatest failure," and there is only one year left before the statute of limitations runs out for this particular crime.
Back in D Prefecture, Mikami gets a surprise when he is ordered to go to visit the family of the Six Four kidnapping victim, to let them know that the police commissioner would like to meet with them on the crime's anniversary day and
"make an appeal, inside and outside the force, and to give a boost to the officers still investigating the case, to reinforce our intention never to let violent crime go unpunished."The real purpose, Mikami's boss tells him, behind the commissioner's appeal is to "reach an internal audience" rather than "the general public." Immediately Mikami realizes that this is all about "politics" more than anything else.
Mikami decides to familiarize himself with the case files, and while going through them sees something odd. His questions are met with silence in some cases, warnings to back off in others, fueling his quest to dig further. But as he is busy trying to find answers, big things are happening at the prefectural HQ that force Mikami to examine his own relationship between himself and the people he works for, as well as his own personal feelings about the crime itself.
That's the basic plot in a brief nutshell, and makes for an excellent mystery, but there's much, much more going on here. First, the book tackles the issue of the relationship between the press and the police, which in my opinion is one of the best parts of this novel. Second, it takes a look at the Japanese police force itself, as Mikami finds himself having to try to navigate through, as author David Peace notes in the interview with Yokoyama at the end of the book (and do yourself a favor and save it for dead last), "their political machinations and rivalries, internal, local and national...", dealing with ambition and the drive for power on the parts of some individuals. And finally, it looks at the human costs of crime from the points of view of both the victims and the police.
I've seen so many not-so-positive reviews of this book -- mostly by readers who were disappointed that it was less of a thriller than an insight into everything I've just mentioned above. Well, to each his/her own as I'm fond of saying. People looking for garden-variety thrillers or crime fiction should probably think twice about reading this one -- thrillers are a dime a dozen these days; books like this one are rarities and should be celebrated.
crime fiction from Japan