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FAW Book Reviews

Six Four
By Hideo Yokoyama

Hardcover,576 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First American Edition edition (February 7, 2017)

Reviewed by Shirley Baugher
April, 2017

Six Four is a book that succeeds on so many levels. It is a first rate detective story. It is a police procedural that informs readers of the painstaking steps that go into solving crimes-sometimes successful, sometimes not. It is an insight into the often-fractious relationship between the government and the press. It is an examination of the people's need to know versus the victim's right to privacy. It is study of family dynamics: how well do we really know those we love and how well do they know us? And, most importantly, it is a story of revenge.

Let me begin by explaining the title. Six Four refers to a fourteen-year old unsolved kidnapping/murder case upon which the statute of limitations is about to expire. After nearly fifteen years, the police are no closer to finding the killer of the seven-year old victim than they were when the crime took place, and the press have not let them forget their failure. The case resurfaces when the young daughter of a prominent citizen is kidnapped under circumstances very similar to those of Six Four-right down to the ransom note and instructions for finding the girl. Though the government would like to keep a lid on the details of the case in order to facilitate their investigations, the press has gotten wind of it and is clamoring for information.

The story takes place in an area known as Prefecture D in the Japanese countryside outside Tokyo. There are three main organizations involved in the case: the administration, the ministry of media relations, and the press. The main character is one Yoshinobu Mikami,a former detective now forced to serve as director of media relations. Mikami was lead detective on Six Four, and the case still haunts him. It is Mikami's job, and a thankless one, to feed reporters as much information as possible without giving them anything that could jeopardize an investigation or violate the privacy of innocent parties. The book opens with a hit and run in which the perpetrator is a pregnant woman who happens to be the wife of a government official. The government refuses to divulge her name both because of her condition and her husband's position. This results in a stand-off between media relations and the press, with the press threatening to go on strike.

Matters escalate quickly. The daughter of a prominent citizen goes missing in circumstances very similar to Six Four. Again, the issue arises: how much to tell the press and how much to hold back. A key matter of contention is the government's refusal to divulge the girl's name and the name of her father. While the case brings out Mikami's investigative instincts, he is ordered to deal only with media relations. Two other distractions impede Mikami's actions. His own daughter has disappeared, although it is clear she has run away and is not a victim of foul play. And Tokyo is sending a commissioner to Prefecture D to visit the site of Six Four and question the girl's father. It is Mikami's responsibility to get approval from the girl's father for the visit, which to his surprise, he does. But the father disappears a few days before the commissioner's arrival and cannot be found. Mikami is distraught over the purpose of this visit. Is the commissioner really coming to drag up Six Four, or is he coming to shake up Media Relations and destroy Mikami's chance of returning to Criminal Investigations? Tokyo refuses to divulge the purpose of the visit. And, Mikami does not want the commissioner to learn of the new kidnapping.

Yokoyama does a masterful job of keeping all these balls in the air for over 500 pages. He lets events unfold very slowly-almost maddeningly so-and methodically builds to a surprising conclusion. Six Four won many awards in Japan, including the Best Japanese Crime Fiction Book of the Year Award, and sold more than a million copies there in its first week of publication. It quickly became a best seller in the U.K. as well. Six Four is Yokoyama's sixth novel and his first to be published in English.