Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Yoshinobu Mikami’s teenage daughter, Ayumi, has disappeared. He and his wife Minako have no idea whether she is alive or dead. The only hint that their child is still alive is a series of random silent phone calls to their home.

Mikami is taut, wired and under constant petty bureaucratic pressure at work. As press office for the police, he is hounded all day by reporters who badger him to reveal information that Mikami’s superiors demand he keep hidden. He works for a failing police force, a rigidly hierarchical organisation that is riven by in-fighting.

Six Four

These internal divisions have had shocking consequences. One of the biggest was the failure of the Six Four investigation. Fourteen years ago, a young girl, Shoko, was kidnapped and murdered. Her killer escaped with millions of yen, and was never found. Horribly, in a year’s time, the case will fall under the statute of limitations.

Faced with the prospect of this evil going unpunished, Mikami retraces the steps of this cold case in the hope that he can help correct the errors of the past. The now press officer was once a detective, one who was right in the middle of Six Four.

Hideo Yokoyama’s novel is a publishing phenomenon in Japan where it has sold millions of copies in matter of days. It’s a slow-burn thriller with characters caught in a complicated web of cover-ups, lies, destroyed evidence – and destroyed lives.

Many of the detectives who worked on Six Four have suffered from the consequences, one even driven to become a hikikomori – a recluse who never leaves his bedroom in the home of his elderly parents.

Mikami too is on edge. Though never mentioned explicitely, he is clearly a man who has anger issues, something that is hard to deal with in a culture where public displays of emotion are frowned upon:

Mikami hadn’t told [his boss] Akama the reason why Ayumi had run away. His face burned regardless. In that instant, his façade of calm crumbled. Akama looked smug.

“The fingerprints, dental records – why don’t you discuss it some more with your wife? I just want to do all we can for you.”

Mikami’s struggle lasted only seconds.

‘Thank you.’

He bowed deeply from the waist. As he did so, he felt the blood coursing through his body.

For foreign readers, this is part of the fascination of Six Four, seeing how people really feel in modern Japan. Sometimes this is overwhelming (and quite uninteresting) as pages are devoted to showing why bureaucrats in the police hierarchy need to be treated with absurd levels of respect.

There is also a large section of this 81-chapter tome given over to a row between the police press office and the local press corps as to whether victims of crime deserve anonymity or not. No doubt this is enthralling to the author, who spent years working as an investigative reporter, but it has little interest for the general reader.

Nevertheless, this is an absorbing read that had me locked in its world. I devoured it, and the resolution [no spoilers, don’t worry] when it comes is as real and confused as every other aspect of Japanese police work. Forget Hercule Poirot, who can force a confession just by spinning a yarn without any hard evidence whatsoever. The Six Four case is a messy, convoluted affair, that devours more victims every time it rears its head.