Title of Book: Six Four
Author: Hideo Yokoyama
Publisher: riverrun – an imprint of Quercus Publishing Ltd.
Hideo Yokoyama has woven a large and intricate tapestry when he wrote his detective novel Six Four. But the final picture far from being an alluring Japanese painting is a piece of turgid, often tedious and sometimes repetitive writing.
The catchy and racy blurb/intro on page one of the book piques one’s. It reads:
The Nightmare No Parent Could Endure.
The Case No Detective Could Solve.
The Twist No Reader Could Predict.
Interesting. So one plunges into the book.
Basically, the book is about one central star – Superindentent Yoshinou Mikami, Press Director stationed at Prefectural D Police Headquarters – and the various planets, satellites and other bodies that revolve around, above, near him or who have crossed his path in the past. Too many to name, too complex their significance to him to outline.
The story opens with Mikami and his wife Minako trudging someplace to identify a body of a young girl who may or may not be their missing 16-year daughter Ayumi. She is not. So they return to their home and the story continues.
It is supposed to be about a yet unsolved, 14 year old case of kidnapping and murder of a young girl. The case is still being pursued as an active case – a little stretched to imagine that any police force would actively keep a team on a case which shows no signs of going anywhere, throws up not a single new lead, nor does the police have any theories. All that has been dealt with and pursued at the time the crime was recent. And everything has come to a dead end.
The book does not come up with any fresh angles; it is not about the pursuit of the case either, nor any kind of detection. If a solution is found at the end, it has little to do with the police, except for one brief, breathless chase. The solve, it seems, is more of a by-product. Of a father’s grief, compounded by the passing away of his wife some eight years after the incident; and his renewed relentless pursuit of the identity of the kidnapper-killer through a somewhat unusual route.
Yes, the book does give one some insight into Japanese society. But the book is by a Japanese writer and the story is based in Japan, so it is bound to have a Japanes context. But there is nothing special, insightful or interesting about the background that it does present.
Yet, there are writers who can sketch the backgrounds against which their stories are written so effectively that they form a a perfect frame for the picture – the story. This is true of my latest discovery Tana French. A writer who sets her stories in Ireland, and sometimes against particular socio economic backgrounds. It was true of Steig Larsson, the iconic author of the Millennium Trilogy – The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo etc. And, by the way, like Yokoyama Larsson was also a journalist who took to storytelling. Compellingly. It is even true of Elizabeth George, an American author, whose Inspector Thomas Lynley novels are based in Great Britain and always throw up facets and images of different strata and segments of society in that country.
What the book does do in great detail and well, is portray the police force in Japan, and its relationship and interactions with the press.
Six Four takes you on a long and exhausting walk along the labyrinthine – metaphorically speaking — corridors of police power, the complex political interactions between different sections and divisions, and the hierarchies of the police; and to a less explored but nevertheless explicit way, it exposes the tangles threads between the central powerhouse, the National Police Agency (NPA) in Tokyo and Prefectural police.
But one did not sign up for a dissertation on “Japanese Police Hieracrchy, its Functioning and Interactions”.
One signed up to read a detective novel. The story is hardly in evidence. And the art and craft of detective writing is abysmally lacking. Most of the book is written in soliloquy form and unveiled through Miyaki’s thoughts on this that or the other. Very little does the story plot its course, or follow its own graph.
My editorial instincts kicked in as I ploughed through the book, and I thought to myself: if I was editing this book, I would cut it down to a maximum of about 300 words. Maybe even less.
And I cannot end before saying that frankly, I was a little surprised that this book made it to the top of the pops: one can concede it might have its attractions to the reader in Japan, presenting as it does insights on its police and press; but the UK? The world? That is a bit difficult to imagine.
Moreover, one was also nonplussed at the kind of rave review blurbs on the back cover of the book. One read – and this from the Sunday Times — “One of the most remarkable revenge dramas in modern detective fiction”. Clearly, Six Four is neither fish nor fowl. What happens within its pages can hardly be called “revenge”, and there’s very little actual drama either. Another says “This remarkable epic is like nothing you have ever read in the genre.” All I can say is that is for a very good reason. It doesn’t work.