Title: Six Four
Author: Hideo Yokoyama
Genre: Fiction, crime, thriller
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: The 1989 kidnapping of seven-year-old Amamiya Shoko ended in tragedy. The failed investigation became known as Six Four and remained unsolved for the next 14 years. In 2002, renewed efforts are made to solve the Six Four-case. Former detective and now police press director Yoshinobu Mikami confronts an anomaly in the case. While he finds himself caught in a power struggle between the conflicting demands of bureaucrats, detectives, and journalists, Mikami’s own investigation uncovers more than he’d dared to imagine. Soon, a new case slowly unfolds.
“It went without saying that Six Four was the Prefectural HQ’s greatest failure. Even in Tokyo, at the level of the National Police Agency, it still ranked as one of the most significant cases that had yet to be closed. At the same time, no one would dispute the fact that, as fourteen years had slipped by since the kidnapping, the memory of the case had begun to fade.”
– Six Four, Hideo Yokoyama
“Six Four” turned out to be nothing like expected. I gathered from several reviews that I was about to take on a slow and “procedural” crime thriller. Considering the fact that it’s also well over 600 pages, and in tiny font at that, I imagined it would take some time getting through. Instead, it turned out to be a serious page-turner and I finished it in less than a week.
It’s safe to say that “Six Four” is something entirely else compared to other crime thrillers I’ve read (which is not much, but still). Yes, to a certain degree it does include the expected “crime” aspect: an unsolved case, the hunt for clues, and the emergence of a new case that spirals into quite the intense chase in the last few chapters. However, the usual investigation procedure itself takes the backseat. In fact, it’s largely absent. Instead, the novel dives into a massive amount of conflict and power play on so many levels, which again gives interesting insight into Japanese culture, Japan’s legal system and politics, and the role of the media. In addition to this, it also tackles the issue of corruption and coverups.
This is a novel that slowly picks up the pace where you can just sit back and watch the plot unfold and develop. There’s something dark and complicated hidden beneath all the politics – you know it and you can definitely sense it. It’s also so refreshing that the protagonist isn’t the usual police detective but actually a press director. I’ve never read anything like it before. Thanks to Mikami’s unusual position, he is unique as a narrator. He has an entirely different take on things, maybe not so much because of his personality but because he has to. Even though he used to be a detective there are definitely limits to his power as far as the investigation is concerned and the many roads he has to travel to get the information he needs affect the narration as a whole. There are also no changes whatsoever when it comes to viewpoints. The whole novel is written in third-person and we follow Mikami only. There’s no choice but to become invested in him but luckily this is a well-rounded character I could sympathize with. The pressure on him is sometimes so immense that even I felt stressed out, and he does go through a lot in terms of having to deal with the press on one hand and the police administration on the other. He’s tough but his compassion is genuine, and I think he’s driven by his determination and conscientiousness. In other words you get to know his character quite well as the story progresses. In the end this is simply a guy you end up rooting for.
While this is a fascinating and informative read as a whole, this book definitely isn’t for everyone. If you want your crime novels to be fast-paced thrillers with gruesome murders, plenty of suspects, mysterious clues, and multiple viewpoints, then “Six Four” probably isn’t for you. It’s also a bit on the lengthy side, even though I did find it to be a page-turner. There are things that require a bit of going back and forth, and it’s not always engrossing. The chapters are encouragingly short however, so it might not feel as long as it looks. The character gallery is interesting but massive, and while I believe this is something everyone can get used to, it’s a bit intimidating and confusing at first. The book comes with a character map and my advice is: don’t get too hung up on this or study it too much before you start reading. Instead, use it as a reference and go back when needed.
This is indeed a crime novel heavily focused on procedures and therefore an unusually demanding read. It’s complicated and detailed but both the plotting and the storytelling is exceptional. It’s so layered and plays on so many different emotions – sympathy with Mikami, frustration with the media and the police, sadness and anger over the failed investigation that is Six Four. The cultural aspect of it just makes it all the more interesting, in my opinion. Also, the final twist is definitely worth sticking around for. If you’re looking for a different, challenging read, whether you’re a fan of crime fiction or not, then I highly recommend this.