The Politics of Crime
When Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama (translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28.00) opens, Yoshinobu Mikami and his wife Minako have traveled to another prefecture on the grisly mission of viewing the body of a dead teenager. Their daughter, Ayumi, has been missing for months and the dead girl might be her. Mikami’s job as the Police Department’s Press Officer means he is given deferential treatment, and is informed of any corpse that might be his daughter.
The girl is not Ayumi. Mikami and Minako return home knowing no more about their daughter than they did before. It’s this idea of knowing, and not knowing, and how we react to both, which becomes a major theme of Six Four. Mikami was a detective before he being transferred to Media Relations, a department which falls under Administrative Affairs, a division of the department often openly at odds with the Investigative Branch, hence the detectives.
When events conspire to bring an unsolved kidnapping from years before back into the spotlight, Mikami finds himself in a conflict between both departments, as well as the political machinations of politicians far away in Tokyo.
Six Four is the code name for the unsolved kidnapping of an eight year old girl. Mikami was a detective then and he worked the case, but now the Statute of Limitations is expiring and Tokyo wants to make a last ditch appeal for information on the case. Or, are they simply using the kidnapping as a smokescreen while they re-structure the department?
Yokoyama’s novel is the story of a crime and an investigation but, more than that, it’s a study of the politics, negotiations, and secrets constantly in play at a large police department. Add to that the rigid strictures of deference and decorum demanded by Japanese society, with its obsessive attention to class and hierarchy, and the novel becomes an intriguing journey in uncovering the truth in a social structure committed to maintaining appearances at all costs.
For Mikami, something doesn’t quite seem right about Tokyo’s interest in the old kidnapping case, nor in his superior’s response to his questions. Driven both by his past as a detective and by his necessity for a certainty he can’t find around his daughter’s disappearance, he relentlessly searches for clues, both to the kidnapping years ago, and its newfound prominence.
Six Four doesn’t read like an American crime novel. Its one act of violence is so subdued as to be laughable by American standards and not a single gun is fired in the course of the book. At times, the repression of the society, while revealing to us as American readers, can be maddening. Characters are left to read remarkably vague clues from others which may hinge on a single word or pause. A certain doggedness is the main quality Mikami brings to bear on his investigation and it is this doggedness, a kind of cultural persistence, which gradually becomes apparent on both sides of the investigation.
Through it all, Mikami and Minako negotiate the day to day numbness, pain and desperation of coming to terms with their own daughter’s disappearance and how, or whether, they can repair their own relationship in its wake. This, as well, has to do with minute changes and hints, instead of dramatic confrontations or wailing psychodrama. Yet, Yokoyama finds ways to make these exchanges very real, and even tender.
If we read to find out about others, to explore cultures or individuals who don’t react in the same ways we might, who don’t think like us and don’t have the same cultural assumptions, if we read to broaden our understanding and our empathy, then we are willing to share our time and patience with characters we don’t initially warm to. We’re willing to experiment with new flavors and strange combinations in the same way we might try a new cuisine.
Hideo Yokoyama’s Six Four places us within the police culture of the Japanese state and gives us plenty of room to move around, to meet the people who work there, the decisions they make and the lives they lead. Its pleasures are unique to the crime novel, and quietly fascinating.
Steve Mitchell is co-owner of Scuppernong Books.