Hideo Yokoyama’s Six Four is one of those books that – for a few months – I saw everywhere I went, and for a very good reason. Yokoyama is incredibly popular in Japan and Six Four, his sixth novel, is his first to be translated in English.
There’s no shortage of crime thrillers on UK bookshelves and I am genuinely a fan of the genre, although once you’ve read a certain amount the plots, characters and plot twists can arguably start to merge into one. Six Four, however, stays fresh for a UK audience because of its contemporary Japanese setting. This separates it from the hundreds of other popular and best-selling crime thrillers.
Six Four concerns itself with two missing person cases, one present and one past. In 1989, seven-year-old Shoko is kidnapped and, following a botched ransom handover, is found dead in a park. Fourteen years later, Yoshinobu Mikami, who worked as an investigator on the case, and his wife are struggling with the disappearance of their daughter Ayumi. When Mikami stumbles across
While both Shoko and Ayumi’s stories are intriguing and central to the plot, Six Four surpassed my expectations and is incredibly multi-layered. Mikami now leads the police department’s press relations team, where he is forced to do intellectual battle and barter with a very demanding group of journalists. His attempts to do things differently are often met with a (not always) polite stubbornness from his superiors in both Administrative Affairs and Criminal Investigations.
As the anniversary of Shoko’s disappearance nears, Mikami is tasked with organising the police commissioner’s visit, but he senses there is a far more significant purpose behind it. As Mikami digs deeper into the Six Four case and the relationship between Administrative Affairs and Criminal Investigations, Six Four becomes more than a crime or police thriller but also a bureaucratic thriller – a new genre in itself.
The rich layers of intrigue and human drama are enough to make Six Four a stand-out crime thriller. What sets it apart from others in the genre is the contemporary Japanese setting – rigid workplace and social hierarchies, the fear of losing face and not rocking the boat that constantly preys on everyone’s mind, and the shocking nature of such kidnapping cases in an otherwise peaceful Japanese neighbourhood combine to tell a gripping story about Japanese society itself.
Six Four is a long read with a large cast, although there is helpfully a diagram at the beginning to remind you of who everyone is. The level of detail demands a slow read but don’t let this put you off. The tension builds page by page and the dramatic climax is well worth the wait. This book is a strong contender for the blog’s book of the year award! It’s currently just £6.99 from Waterstones, so what are you waiting for?