Monday, August 5, 2013

At first the story was a puzzle, which developed over time into a profound mystery

One of the things I like about Goodreads is I can create my own bookshelves. There can be YA or non-fiction or fantasy, sure. But they can also be whatever I'd like to call them, which means I can make very niche shelves as I noticed certain reading trends. For example "White guy problems" or more specifically "middle aged, middle class white guys having middle aged, middle class white guy problems". Who knew that would be a theme for me? Now I've found another one: "Tokyo true crime stories about the sex industry told by foreign news correspondents". If you have any pithy name suggestions, let me know. Last time it was Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein and this time it's People Who Eat Darkness:The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo - And the Evil that Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry.*

I first heard about this book sometime last year when Brenna from Literary Musings read it and had good things to see. Then Ben from Dead End Follies reviewed it, and again said all good things. So when I saw it was part of the Kindle daily deal I NATURALLY had to get it. I was not disappointed.

People Who Eat Darkness is, as I mentioned above, a true crime book. That crazy sub-title pretty much sums up what happens. Lucie Blackman, a young woman from England, travels to Tokyo in the hopes of finding work as a hostess, and disappears. Nine months later her body is found in a cave. (I'm not ruining anything for you. The description of the book tells you Lucie's fate.) Richard Lloyd Parry was a British journalist living and working in Tokyo at the time of Lucie's disappearance and something about the case draws him in. He spends ten years going over the details of the case, interviewing Lucie's family and friends, and other hostesses, eventually putting together this book.

I powered through this book, especially the first half. It's fascinating. Much more than just watching a horrific crime unfold, you're entering into a different world. I mentioned above Lucie goes to Tokyo in hopes of finding work as a hostess in the Roppongi district, essentially Tokyo's red light district. But Lucie wasn't a prostitute, she never had sex with her clients and was never expected to. A hostess's job was to talk to men, light their cigarettes, pour their drinks, flatter them. That was it. Sure, the men could ask graphic sexual questions and yes, the work could be degrading, but it was never about having sex.

Then there's the Japanese police force and court system, which is both very similar and very different from what we have in the states. Parry says a few times that Japan has very little crime, but that the low crime rates have more to do with a law abiding population and less to do with skilled police work. Not to say that the police are not trained or dedicated to their work, but that when you don't have much serious crime you don't have much experience investigating and prosecuting serious crime.

 I wouldn't compare this book to In Cold Blood. You don't feel like you're reading a novel and that the people in it are characters. But that's fine. I spent a lot of the time reading In Cold Blood thinking about how so much of it is made up. I mean, sure, Capote had done a lot of research, had spend a lot of time interviewing people in the town, but that doesn't mean he knows exactly what happened in those last moments. People Who Eat Darkness sticks more to a "just the facts, ma'am" style.

The book was excellent. It was heartbreaking to watch Lucie's family try desperately to find their daughter and deal with the bureaucracy that is the Japanese police force. It was fascinating to learn about Roppongi and the hostess culture. It was frustrating to hear about the police and what they couldn't do. And then there's the man accused of Lucie's disappearance. I can't say I've read a lot of true crime novels to compare this to, but that won't stop me from saying, this is better than typical true crime books and you should check this one out.

*If you'd also like to work in something but insanely long sub-titles, I think that works as well. OR I could make that a separate shelf just for that. Yes, that'll do.

Title quote from location 285

Parry, Richard Lloyd. People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo - And the Evil that Swallowed Her Up. Macmillan, 2012.