KLASSEN ON BOOKS - MAY 2017 - By John Klassen (Reviews)

   John Klassen

Hideo Yokoyama
Yokoyama (1957-) worked for twelve years as an investigative reporter for a regional newspaper in Japan before turning to crime fiction. He has written six books. Six Four sold a million copies in the first six days when it was published in Japan; it is the first of Yokoyama's novels to be translated into English.

Six Four
Six Four is the code name used by the police for a fourteen-year old, unsolved kidnap-murder case that involved a young girl; the year of the event was 1989, the last, sixty-fourth, year of the Showa period that designated the reign of Emperor Hirohito. The novel is set in 2002, close to the application of the statute of limitations on prosecuting someone for the crime.

The main protagonist is Mikami Yoshinobu, a detective who had a small role in the Six Four case, now Director of Media Relations, a decidedly unenviable position located within Administrative Affairs, constantly warring with Criminal Investigations as to how much, and when, information should be released to the press. Tensions abound, exacerbated for Mikami and his wife Minako because of the three-month absence of their daughter Ayumi. The relationship, especially between Mikami and Ayumi, was fraught with difficulties and misunderstandings; it was thought that Ayumi had just run away from home, though the possibility of foul play always lurks in the background, and a complete lack of contact, except for a few mysterious phone calls that might, or might not, be Ayumi, add to the confusion and hurt and tensions.

This is a police/crime/mystery novel, but what makes it unique is the almost complete focus on internal police procedures and extreme bureaucratic infighting. The story line is complicated and an organizational and personnel chart at the beginning of the novel helps keep the agencies and people straight. There are three rings of tension and struggle: the Press Club vs Media Relations; Administrative Affairs vs Criminal Investigations; Criminal Investigations (a prefectural body) vs the National Police Agency in Tokyo. To this cauldron can be added the foibles of individual personalities that run the gamut of professionalism to incompetence, overweening ambition, loyalty, betrayal, respect and loathing. Add to this, a growing suspicion that something went wrong with the Six Four investigation and how the transfer of the ransom was managed (and lost) before the girl was found murdered. And finally, another young girl is kidnapped with eery echoes to elements of Six Four.

Yokoyama writes well. The characters are well drawn and well defined. The tensions and confusions are palpable. On the surface, a novel about internal bureaucratic infighting among police agencies might seen uninteresting, but Yokoyama builds the tensions well, as he slowly peels away the layers of internal and external mysteries and motivations that beset individuals and organizations.

The book (riverrun publishers) contains an interview of Yokoyama by the British author, David Peace (1967-). [Peace is also an author worth knowing. He lived in Japan for 15 years and has written two murder mysteries set in post-war Japan: Occupied City and Tokyo Year Zero. He also wrote an excellent historical fiction called GB84, based on the miners' strike in the UK in 1984.]

The interview is interesting for the insights it provides into Yokoyama's views on writing. This summarizes nicely what Yokoyama set out to do, and what he achieves, in Six Four: "My goal was to set the benchmark for the Japanese police procedural novel; examine the relationship between the main character and the crime, his working environment, the friction between him and the organization for which he works, and from this the wider, more harmful elements in Japanese society. Because I believe writing about individuals is still writing about society." Also, "...Six Four contains all the themes of my work, describing the relationships between individuals and organizations far more carefully and minutely than I have ever done before. And writing about this relationship is not only my main theme or preoccupation, it has become my life's work."

Yokoyama is fascinated by the mysteries that pertain to every individual, unexamined motivations, how they perceive themselves versus how they are perceived differently by different people, how they react in moments of stress: "I sincerely hope this book also acts as a litmus test to see yourself: how you would behave and who you really are...", especially as, "...sometimes an accidental choice becomes your life."

Life in all its permutations and combinations is essentially a set of mysteries, known and unknown: "...the reason I choose to write 'mystery novels' is purely because I love 'mystery', but I define 'mystery' as simply trying to recognize and understand the existence and mystery of lives other than my own."

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