Book review: Six Four

Despite such lame story tropes, it’s worth bearing with Six Four, which has sold more than one million copies in Japan, as the intricacies start to interlope.

Hideo Yokoyama

Quercus, €19.99

OVER a sprawling, weaving 600-plus pages, Hideo Yokoyama, in his first novel to be translated from Japanese into English, tackles internal, interdepartmental police politics and PR, confidentiality and anonymous reporting, press clubs, marital difficulties, missing children, identity, professional rivalries and colleagues, and revenge. And that’s without even discussing the titular case of Six Four itself.

In 1989, 14 years prior to when the book is set, a seven-year-old girl goes missing. The police are called despite the kidnapper warning the girl’s father not to involve them, among other demands.

A ransom is paid, the kidnapper gets away — and the girl is killed. 

The investigation is still ongoing, but a statute of limitations is set to kick in after 15 years, meaning that even if they do make an unlikely breakthrough, it might be too late. 

The probe was botched, everyone knows it; especially Mikami, our ubiquitous protagonist.

A former detective, he was recently transferred to media relations, and is facing increasing problems related to anonymous reporting, the local press club complaining of the police holding back the name of a woman involved in a hit and run.

Mikami’s daughter, Ayumi, has been missing for a couple months, and the book opens with he and his wife, Minako, travelling four hours to identify a child’s body. 

Relief hits him as he realises it is not his child. However, the whole affair is affecting him mentally, and dragging his wife away from him.

“An optimist to the last, Mikami jeered inwardly. He was still looking for his place in the force. Dreaming of somewhere to lay his bones to rest, as a hero detective, using Ayumi’s suffering as his excuse.”

Despite these twin concerns, Mikami still finds time to ponder, of his own accord, how the Six Four case was botched so spectacularly. 

He surmises that it’s all related to the whispered claims of the ‘Koda memo’, compiled by an officer who had been attached to the case but had since drifted in life to the point where seemingly nobody knows where he is. 

“If we’d only recorded the bastard’s voice. If only that damned trace had been ready. These were phrases uttered by every detective who ever came to work on the case, always mingled with a sigh.”

All this takes place in the first third of the book, laying the groundwork for an epic unfurling crime novel.

The chapters are short, the longest hitting around 15 pages, and detail one scene at a time. 

The reader could easily imagine this as the next renowned television series: CSI meets The Wire. However, there are cliches no fictional detective seems able to avoid. 

We are treated to Mikami’s inner thoughts as he tries to piece people and clues together. Too often it seems like divine intervention: “Of course ... Hiyoshi. The name seemed to come from nowhere.”

In a local diner, an exhausted Mikami is poring over details while a waitress, with a smile, offers him coffee and then a refill. 

“A strange idea had taken hold of him. The girl had been some kind of omen. He could think of no other explanation for what had just happened.”

Seemed to me like she was doing her job.

The chapter ends a couple of paragraphs later with a groaning banality: “His eyes tracked around to find the waitress. Perhaps she’d gone through to the back or maybe finished her shift. She was nowhere to be seen.”

Despite such lame story tropes, it’s worth bearing with Six Four, which has sold more than one million copies in Japan, as the intricacies start to interlope.

The final action scene is a thrilling, almost literal joyride across the city, which, like all the best crime stories, will leave you breathlessly flicking the pages to the end.

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