I first knew about the book when Jackie@Farmlane Book Blog gave it 5 stars.
Do you know what keeps me awake at night?
Ok besides my boys, the book that keeps me awake at night is not crime thrillers, not a good love story, but true crime. True story of crime reportage!
My first experience of reading true crime was Victorian true crime story The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale followed by Death in Perugia by John Follain of Meredith Kercher’s murder case. The latter kept me awake visualising all the gruesome details in my head. I don’t know why I did this upon myself but I am glad to say People Who Ate Darkness was milder in the degree of goriness in comparison to the Kercher case. Before reading this book, I remember reading from the news of a British young woman who was murdered by a young man that she taught English to.
It’s 2000. 21-year-old Lucie Blackman from Sevenoaks first worked as a British Airway hostess went to Tokyo work as a bar hostess in the Roppongi district. Lloyd Parry spent nearly a chapter describing the different “shades” of the work of hostesses. The hostess job is to flirt, to appear attentive and interesting; and to fulfill a workhorse white collar men’s fantasy of talking to foreign women who appears to be interested in him. In return, the businessmen buys more alcohol, tip a little bit more and increases the hostess’ ranking in the club. Bonus is paid out to the best earning hostess. A hostess job is not to offer sex as service, although what she does outside her working hours is the hostess’ business.
It is no surprise that the hostess feels the pressure of keeping the alcohol pouring and the money spending, so that she can keep her job. Otherwise she will be sacked. Some hostesses were obliged to see some of their clients beyond the safety of the club. It was an outing like this after Lucie’s phone call to her friend Louise, that Lucie disappeared.
Such crime in the shady underworld is common, the missing case of Lucie Blackman is not a priority for the Japanese police. Lucie’s father Tim and sister Sophie flew to Japan. Coincide with the G8 summit, Tim and Sophie succeed in drawing attention to Lucie’s case by lobbying and request the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to speak to his Japanese counterpart. Tim successfully lobbied Tony Blair, who persuaded the Japanese prime minister to make the case a priority.
The book traced Lucie as a young child from a broken family and her relationship with her boyfriends. It highlights the disgusting revelation that Lucie’s father seems to enjoy his spot in the limelight more than he should. As a father who is supposed to grieve for his daughter, he appears too cheerful, too smug and fake.
The author takes you into the mind of each of these characters, with meticulous and deep research brings the psyche and motivation of the characters in the book alive, including Joji Obara, the suspect.
While Death in Perugia seems to tread on the evidence, crime scenes and alibi on a familiar ground again and again, in this book Parry anecdotes the crime reportage with family dynamics, the Japanese police and legal systems, the trail and evidence that eventually lead to the crime scene. The book is rich with interesting details, anecdotes, and shocking revelations. You will need a strong stomach to read through some grisly murder details! :(
The suspect appears to be a sociopath. Polite and rich with no friends, lured women into his trap that he sets up for them. Despite many evidence that pointed to the suspect, there isn’t a murder weapon or direct link to a piece of evidence that inflicted Lucie’s wound.
The case became more complex as the Japanese legal system works different from the West. In the West, a person is innocent unless proven guilty. If the defendant pleaded guilty, a lesser punishment is meted out. In the Japanese legal system however, the defendant is expected to confess to his crime. Once he confessed, the police will support the confession with evidence of the crime. In my wildest imagination, I can’t get my head around how this logic works. A murderer would be less likely to confess to their own crime, how is it possible to get the suspect to confess to his / her crime before prosecution takes place? but this is the way it works in Japan. As the defendant proves to be less forthcoming about his confession, compounded with unexpected twists and turns, the case dragged on for 10 more years. It is also common for the defendants to offer money to the victim family to atone their sins and the defendant’s crime can be weighed against or offset by the good deeds he had done for the society. Bizarre, I know.
I don’t want to go on talking about this book and spoil it for you. It is a great piece of true crime reportage that makes me engrossed, mesmerised, disgusted, more knowledgeable, and worry for the young women who fall prey to the wolf dressed in sheep’s skin.
At the end of it, the victim, the murderer, the family, the journalist, Richard Lloyd Parry himself all bound by a strange kind of relationship. A cause and effect relationship of one monster that destroyed so many lives from living a meaningful lives, a monster that sucked out the lives of people that were closest to Lucie.
For a dense 381-page book and I have succeeded in finishing it off within two days. This tells you how riveting, thrilling, readable this big book is. A first class journalism and research that will have you at the edge of your seat. Brilliant. Simply unputdownable.
Jackie@Farmlane Book Blog: Overall this was an impressive book that will shock and entertain you. Highly recommended.
Hardback. Publisher: Jonathan Cape 2011; Printed Length: 381 pages; Setting: Japan, Sevenoaks, UK. Source: Reading Central Library copy. Finished reading on: 15th April 2013, Saturday.
About the writer:
Richard Lloyd Parry is an award-winning British foreign correspondent. He is the Asia Editor of The Times (London), based in Tokyo, and is the author of the non-fiction books In the Time of Madness and People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman.
In 1995, he became Tokyo correspondent of the British newspaper The Independent and began reporting from other countries in Asia. In 1998 he covered the fall of President Suharto in Indonesia, and the violence which followed the independence referendum in East Timor. In 2002, he moved to The Times. Altogether he has worked in twenty-seven countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Kosovo and Macedonia.
Before publication, People Who Eat Darkness received praise from novelists such as Chris Cleave, Mo Hayder, Julie Myerson, David Peace and Minette Walters. It was described by Blake Morrison in The Guardian as “a compelling book, 10 years in the making, rich in intelligence and insight.” In the Daily Mail, Bel Mooney called it “an extraordinary book which stands as far above the ‘true crime’ label as ‘Paradise Lost’ does above the category ‘verse’.”
People Who Eat Darkness was placed on the longlist for the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction and shortlisted for the 2012 Orwell Prize
I thought Parry make non-fiction reading entertaining and I really would like to read about In the Time of Madness and the Suharto regime. I will see if I can find a copy.