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BOUND TO PLEASE / Investigation of cold case unearths strong emotions

The Japan News

By Fumiko Endo / Japan News Staff WriterSix Four

By Hideo Yokoyama

Translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies

Quercus, 635pp

Deja vu and anxiety sometimes struck me as I read the mystery novel “Six Four,” which got me thinking about my former days as an inexperienced police reporter. It dredged up old feelings of chagrin in my mind.

“Six Four” is full of fierce conflicts in and around the police headquarters of “Prefecture D” — the administrative affairs department versus the detectives, the career-track officers versus the local officers, the police’s media relations section versus the police reporters.

This year, the novel was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association’s International Dagger award for translated crime novels. It was the first Japanese novel nominated for the British award. Author Hideo Yokoyama worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Gunma Prefecture for 12 years. Yokoyama is well known for his novel “Climber’s High,” which features reporters who covered the biggest-ever plane crash in Japan.

“Six Four” protagonist Mikami is the press director at the administrative affairs department of Prefecture D’s police force. He used to be a detective who joined the team investigating the kidnapping and murder of a 7-year-old girl in January 1989. The unsolved case was dubbed “Six Four” because it occurred on Jan. 5, 1989, in the 64th and final year of the Showa era.

Later, in the book’s present day, a conflict between reporters and press officers has been sparked by a police decision to withhold the name of a woman who caused an accident that seriously injured an old man. The police explain that the woman is pregnant, arguing that publication of her name might damage her health.

In the middle of the story, Mikami decides on his own to disclose her name, indicating that she is the daughter of a member of Prefecture D’s Public Safety Committee. When reporters react sharply (“How corrupt can you get?”), Mikami tells them: “I’m in here, having cast off that role. What I’m asking you to decide is whether or not you can trust me.”

What are you faithful to when you’re confronted with making a significant decision? An organization you belong to? Or yourself? This novel continually presents such questions.

Late in the book, the investigation over the Six Four cold case suddenly moves forward. Translator Jonathan Lloyd-Davies keeps the story’s climax vivid, maintaining the sense of speed conveyed by Yokoyama’s writing. You might feel as if you are witnessing an ongoing crime scene.

I worked as a police reporter for only six months in northern Japan. However, during my short-term assignment, the kidnapping of a teenage girl occurred in the jurisdiction of a police station I covered. Fortunately, the girl was safely rescued after two days. I have only fragmentary memories of those two days, which I spent continuously at the police station with almost no sleep. As a reporter, I was forced to endure feelings of incompetence. In later years, I had an opportunity to do some additional reporting related to the kidnapping. The case will probably never be erased from my heart. I believe both investigators and reporters are destined to live with such indelible memories. I imagine Yokoyama also lives in that way.

Where to Read

In an old cafe with retro furniture and a Showa era atmosphere, such as in the Jinbocho district in Tokyo. A modern cafe, where busy businesspeople gather to chat or work on their PCs, would not be as appropriate.

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