“Six Four” by Hideo Yokoyama, translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, is a complex and captivating novel. Readers get vivid picture of the people, the events, the politics, and the balancing act that goes on continually in a police department in Japan. It is a universal story of crime, family, conflict, and duty. Yoshinobu Mikami is not thrilled with his move from the Criminal Investigation Division to the press office. There is unrest in the police department and in the press corps, and he is under attack on all sides. This is the chronicle of a man struggling to support his family, manage his personal trauma, and do his job. Readers get to know him well by observing his interactions with others, following his thinking, and uncovering clues when he does.
Vivid descriptions put the reader right into the scene. “Outside, the snow had turned to sleet. Three figures stood breathing chalky clouds in the dark of the parking area.” Yokoyama fills every page with everyday life, job stress, political pressure, and moral dilemmas. Every word contributes to the total picture. The characters are multi-faceted and complex; throughout the narrative, they display a sense of pride, history, duty, and honor. There is a convenient cast of characters at the front of the book to help readers keep track of names and jobs.
A fourteen-year old kidnapping case, Six Four, is still unsolved. Out of all the cases of kidnapping and murder that had happened since, it was the only one in which the perpetrator was still at large. Were mistakes made? What was a lie and what was truth? The toll this case had taken on everyone leaps from the pages, even after fourteen years.
The pace is deliberate but steady at first. When the Six Four case comes to the forefront, clues emerge, issues become clear, and pieces fall into place like rocks emerging from a receding tide. Six Four engulfs everything and everyone. The story gains momentum, proceeds at a breakneck speed, and comes to a frantic, desperate, and shocking end.
The name of the case and book come from the year of the crime, Six Four. In Japan, the name of the era changes when the emperor dies. The new era, Heisei, started on January 8 1989, the day after emperor Hirohito died. A man kidnapped and murdered a seven-year-old girl in the sixty-fourth year of Showa, a period that lasted for only a week, and disappeared into Heisei when the body was found. The code name “Six Four” was a pledge that the case did not belong to the first year of Heisei. The police would drag the kidnapper right back into that final year of Showa.
“Six Four” is a glimpse into to this culture for the outsider. There are multiple cultural references, descriptions, mannerisms, and national markers. This is not a story that could take place somewhere else with just a few name changes.
I highly recommend this book. I was captivated by the characters at the start, and by the end, I was frantically turning pages.