Book name: Six Four
Author: Hideo Yokoyama
The best of crime novels are those that play hide and seek with the darkness that lurks beneath the veneer of gentility in society. It is on these cracks, carefully soldered together and hidden away from public view, that Hideo Yokohama trains his searchlight in his mammoth novel, Six Four, that released in Japan to great acclaim in 2012, and whose English translation is now available.
In 1989, a seven-year-old Tokyo girl, Shoko, is abducted and murdered, even after her father, a pickle factory owner, manages to deliver the 20 million yen the kidnappers had demanded. The case would live on in public memory for the spectacular failure of the police force to either trace Shoko or to bring her kidnappers to book. Fourteen years later, press director Yoshinobu Mikami, who had been on the investigative team in 1989, discovers an anomaly that will change everything he had known about the case or that he had held to be true.
The discovery, though, comes at a particularly difficult time for Mikami. His teenage daughter Ayumi has gone missing over three months ago, splintering his family life into an endless readiness for any eventuality. Amidst all this, he has to prepare the ground for a visit from the commissioner, the demigod in the police pantheon. The commissioner wants to meet Shoko’s reluctant father on the anniversary of the crime and assure the public that violent crimes would not go unpunished on his watch, even if retribution came years later, perilously close to the statute of limitation on a case. He also has to deal with an increasingly agitated local press that does not take kindly to suggestions on anonymous reporting. Mikami finds his loyalties severely tested, his allegiances wavering over the course of his discovery and subsequent personal investigation.
Like Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, to which its success is being compared to, Six Four is a massive construct that maps out the working of Japan’s police force, complete with its ugly warts and internal politics. In this universe, morals bend to career ambitions and personal egos and bureaucrats and sleuths are never at ease with each other.
But, unlike the Millennium Trilogy, Six Four is a slow burn of a novel that eschews thrill to focus tightly on its vast canvas of characters and a city in churn. Sometimes, it results in passages of dense details that flag the pace further, but, if you can get past that, and on to the twist in the tale, it’s a story worth its length and narrative detours.