A few thoughts on Six Four, by Hideo Yokoyama:
- This book is BIG compared to typical crime novels. My paperback edition is 630 pages. It also has a lot more characters than usual – nearly two dozen, and it took me several chapters to get used to the feel of the thing. Just as a counterpoint bit of data: another Japanese hit: The Devotion of Suspect X, which is just about 300 pages, and has no more than a half-dozen total names.
- The theme is also not comparable to the typical thriller or crime novel. Six Four delights in setting up a world with multiple factions and rivalries, all around the functioning of a police department. The tension comes from the politics within, as well as the cases without. Some reviewers have talked of the novel “meandering” throughout the middle part before finally returning to the main theme. I disagree – the “main theme” - that of the numerous complexities that a police system develops – is very tightly coupled with the main crime and its eventual resolution. If there’s another book that this reminds me of, it would be James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia, though that goes off in a totally different direction.
- Not to add spoilers here, but the title refers to a child kidnapping case that the police haven’t been able to solve for 14 years now, and how it has affected the personnel involved in different ways. In parallel, the protagonist’s daughter has disappeared and he is also worked up about an upcoming official’s visit to the department. Not all the threads get resolved completely, but that is part of the point of the book.
- Six Four is a deliberate effort to get across the complexities of life in modern Japan – but with a tighter focus on the negatives. I remember a friend once telling me he loved England and it’s ways, purely based on its depiction in P G Wodehouse novels. You’re likely to feel the opposite here – you’ll be scared of Japan based on how it’s depicted here.
- Translation is excellent and gets the point across while displaying some real style. I am enthused about reading more by Yokoyama when it becomes available in English. Apparently this book is part of a series, so there should be more to come.
Should you read it? There’s no denying it’s slow in the first 3/4ths and that it has lots of characters. Unless you’re willing to make a real time commitment to this, you’ll find it frustrating. But if you make the effort, it really pays off.