Thursday, February 08, 2018

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

This is a large and somewhat odd book which took me about a week to read over the course of some recent travels - about the same time it took for a million copies of the book to sell in Japan . Its genesis is a cold case, a kidnapping 14 years earlier. The title refers to the 64th year into the previous Emperor's (Hirohito) reign, despite the fact that it actually happened just inside the present incumbent's time. The kidnapper led the cops on a wild goose chase - the victim was instructed to stop at a cafe to make the handover, only to find get instructions to proceed somewhere else. This happens about a dozen times, until the victim is told to throw the ransom into a river - it is never seen again and the kidnapped girl turns up a few days later, dead.
Mikami was one of the cops, a rising star in the crime team of a prefectural police force - we are never told where. Recently, his own daughter has gone missing - some sort of communication breakdown (actually, she blames her dad for imprinting his "gargoyle" features on her face) leading her, at age 16 or so, to think she can do better on her own and walk out. Her mum is devastated - won't leave the house in fear Ayumi will ring when she's not there. Mikami is no longer in the criminal team; a couple of years ago, he was switched to the Administrative Branch, as its press director - a job for which he has no training. The point is that he is a man with divided loyalties, particularly as he hopes to get back to his former unit.

So, yes, solving this cold case is ostensibly what the novel is about, and it is, in a very impressive way, but it is very much in the background for most of the novel. Instead, we get to spend our time in the Administrative side of the police, viewing the world through our conflicted press director. He has a good team, but is bad at managing them, especially the female team member as he won't give her credit for being able to do the job. She, of course, turns out to be keen and fantastic at her job. A big dispute arises with the local press, over the level of communications they can expect from the police, and whether it is for the police or the press to decide to keep certain information private. There are very mixed messages from within the Police, making Mikami's position impossible at times. He is not particularly good at sticking to his job, gets involved in the kidnapping case and finds that the Police themselves could have done a much better job, something they have concealed.

There's another big dispute - between the two branches of the Police force, coming to a head when a bigwig is due to visit from Tokyo, possibly to replace local command. It gets so bad that when the criminal branch pretty much disappears, Mikami believes it is because of the dispute, not because they have a major crime, another kidnapping, to solve and have assembled at a command post. All of the tensions come to the fore with this second kidnapping, with the Police basically trolling the press by giving them a spokesperson who had no idea what was going on. At this point, the novel finally burst into action, as Mikami was able to get inside a mobile command unit and report directly back to the press conference.

I liked Mikami - he's not a very imaginative man, but he is a good man, wants to do right. For much of the novel, he has to struggle to work out what is right, and then work out how to act. But there's a lot of tenderness in his fractured relationship with his wife - they don't know how to connect, but he makes sure there is food delivered to her for lunch (because she would otherwise forget to eat) - and unlike many men, he gets and acts on suggestions from other women as to how to make things better.     


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