on August 27, 2012
My husband says he sometimes gets concerned by the fact that one of my not-so-hidden guilty pleasures is watching true crime TV and reading various true crime nonfiction. "Are you planning something?" is something he's asked me more than once. Anyway, because I've read a lot of the more well-known true crime books, I feel confident saying that this is one of the best--and also one of the scariest--that I've read in a long time.
I had just finished Gone Girl and was looking for something nonfiction (I like to alternate--fiction, nonfiction and so on) and this one looked promising.
One of the potential pitfalls of true crime nonfiction is in making the "other" content in the book--a description of the victim's life before they died, an account of the sometimes mundane police work, a short bio of the killer's life growing up--as interesting as the crime itself. Some writers go too far, providing over-dramatized background in an unorganized way in order to boost the number of pages in the book. Others don't go far enough and you don't establish any sort of context of who the people are (or were), which doesn't feel at all fair to the victims. (They were, after all, much more than the crime that ended their life.) One of my most hated ploys is the writer who alternates chapters as a device to keep readers engaged: one bio chapter, one crime chapter and so on and so forth. It feels cheap, like how TV shows end cliffhangers right before a commercial, and it reduces important details about someone's life to nothing but filler.
In this case, Parry did everything right. The biographical portions of the book, of which there are many, are honest, forthright and meaningful. Instead of over-dramatizing events to boost suspense, he simply relays facts in a professional, intelligent way that made me confident of his research. I attribute this mostly to his training in journalism that he didn't rely on the cheap ploys that true crime nonfiction so often does.
Another aspect of the book that I find really well-done was Parry's ability to keep the enormous cast of characters easily recognizable by the reader. There's nothing more frustrating than to have to look back in a book to determine who is being talked about, and Parry did a great job of eliminating this type of confusion.
One of the best things about this book is how well Parry translates Lucie to the reader. You feel like you know her well by the end--her desires, her personality, the things she wanted in her life. Unfortunately, that makes it all the more heart-breaking when you read the details of what happened to her at the hand of a truly demented individual.
The scariest thing about this book is how vulnerable women can be in the presence of a unnaturally manipulative and twisted mind. Joji Obara, Lucie's alleged murderer, drugged and raped literally hundreds of women before doing the same--and then killing--Lucie. It's an unimaginable legacy of crime, and one that maybe could have been thwarted much sooner had it not been for the overly cautious and bureaucratic Japanese police force. The details of the Japanese justice system near the end of the book are fascinating and eye-opening. I always assumed Japan had severe punishments for criminals, and although that is usually the case, their general incompetence in actually compiling the evidence necessary to charge and convict a criminal is pointed out time and time again in this book.
The book was suspenseful and frightening without resorting to any cheap tricks, and the huge amount of research and material surrounding the case was impeccably laid out. If you've never read true crime nonfiction before, this is a great place to start.
on July 28, 2012
I read this book by accident - hastily buying an e-version prior to a trip. On the one hand, it is a fascinating glimpse into several aspects of Japanese society, especially those related to behavior, crime, and law enforcement, where concepts of honor and face intersect with expected behavior. While the Japanese police claim to solve nearly all crimes, recent stories - including this one - suggest that in fact they are only marginally competent, and that deeply rooted behavioral norms have more to do with low rates of crime, and high rates of case closings, than anything else. The book also delves into the intersection between the ethnic Korean population in Japan, and the bar culture.
At the same time, the story is a deep dive into a lurid one-man crime spree in Tokyo. The author, who intitially took interest in the case as a newspaper reporter, writes with an overwrought emotion, constantly wringing out descriptions of main characters and how they felt, their interpersonal conflicts, and all the back and forth that resulted. In this respect, this book was a long version of the reporter on the local news who arrives on scene, thrusts the microphone into the face of the grieving mother, and says "tell us how it feels to have just lost your home and children in a fire."
I'd skip this unless highly stylized "true crime" interests you, or you have a deep interest in modern Japanese society.
on June 26, 2012
True crime books don't represent a genre I normally read, but having spent quite a lot of time travelling to Japan for work, particularly Tokyo, "People Who Eat Darkness" piqued my interest mainly for its potential to explore social and cultural aspects of Japan. I'll be the first to admit that my expectations were only slightly high because of all the positive editorial reviews I'd seen, but I was a bit skeptical these were mainly from those who like this genre.
While Richard Lloyd Parry's book is about the disappearance of Lucie Blackman, British national (former BA flight attendant) who moved to Tokyo with her friend Louise to work as a "hostess" in one of Tokyo's many clubs catering to Japanese salarymen. For Lucie, she felt this represented a chance to earn some quick money and pay off the debts she accumulated back in England living in one of the more expensive cities in the world, London, working on entry level wages. Parry does a wonderful job introducing us to the Blackman family, mother Jane, father Tim, younger sister Sophie and younger brother Rupert. Tim and Jane endured a bitter separation and divorce leaving wounds that ran deep through this family. A brilliant aspect of this book is the undercurrent of these scars through the Blackman's from Lucie's disappearance, the search for her and the eventual trial of her suspected abductor and murderer. As a reader, you hold out some hope that somehow this tragedy will bring the family closer and heal some of the wounds created by the divorce, but it is quite the opposite, particularly for Tim and Jane as well as Jane and Sophie.
Parry does a masterful job of bringing the reader deep into the heart of Tokyo and aspects of life in this teeming metropolis --- one that is extremely clean and with the lowest crime rate in the industrialized world. For the uninitiated this can be both puzzling and part of the appeal given the relative homogeneity of the country. One such area are clubs with "hostesses", women who provide companionship to Japanese salarymen, although these are not sexual, where Lucie and her friend Louise went for work. Parry's coverage of this world and particularly the Roppongi district are exceptional in demystifying this cultural uniqueness, bridging Western and Eastern culture.
With all the relevant and deep context before Lucie's disappearance, Parry embarks on deconstructing in excruciatingly detail the search for Lucie by her family, the bumbling police investigation, the bizarre and mysterious suspect, Joji Obara, arrested for Lucie's death and a spate of other deviant and horrendous sexual crimes.
Parry captures the fear present in every parent, the disappearance and death of a child, with brilliance. We see the struggle of Lucie's family to get closure through the byzantine legal and judicial system in Japan and the already frayed Blackman familial relationships further stretched to the breaking point. While "People who Eat Darness" is a story about Lucie, Parry's book excels because it is a broader character study of Lucie, Joji, Tim, Jane and Sophie, against the backdrop of cultural dissonance when East meets West.
on December 24, 2012
Reading some of the "bad" reviews, I am confused. I am an amateur reader that watches a lot of trash TV murders. By comparison, I feel this was a most excellent book. I couldn't put it down. Yes, the trial part got a little long, but so was the trial. It seemed to me be a very well-written narrative and I enjoyed it immensely.
I should add that I have lived and worked off and on in Japan for over 40 years, and I learned much about Japanese society that I thought I already knew. I also learned several new to me British words thanks to the easily available Kindle dictionary. So, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading what I might call: Murder Mysteries. Detective Stories. Like that.
on January 12, 2016
As someone who's interested in True Crime, I thought I had thick skin. This is without a doubt the most frightening book I've ever read. It messed up my sleep schedule for days.
Also, before I begin. I'm a little OCD. There were two typos in the book I noticed--gotta watch that!
Anyways. Richard Lloyd Parry is a clear, concise writer and he brings another level to what could have easily been a sensationalist piece of true-crime trash. I wanted in particular to praise Parry for his sympathetic portrayal of the victim. He uses factual information to paint a real and in-depth portrait of Lucie, her life, her family, and ultimately their grief. Parry is particularly good at giving us well rounded views of real people. No one in the story was reduced to black and white, and even the most vile of characters were treated with the eye of a skilled and unbiased reporter.
This book is not just about a murder. Parry tackles all aspects of the story, ranging from the western experience in Japan, the Japanese police force, Japan's complex relationship with masculinity and nightlife, true grief and loss, and creepiest of all in my opinion, the bizarre people that emerge during the search for a high-profile missing person and the subsequent murder trial.
Truly, Parry explores some of the seediest people and events I have ever read about. This book is almost as much about the absolute darkest parts of humanity as it is about one case, hence the title. It's NOT for the faint of heart. Several times when I was reading the book, I thought, "Should this really have been written about?" I raced to finish it because Parry's writing is compelling, but also, I wanted it to be over.
Undoubtedly Parry did a good job, even with a story so macabre. It's in no way exploitive or biased. And I learned a lot, even though I'm not sure I wanted to.
on February 4, 2013
I live in Tokyo, so this book is more of a must read for me as I really don't know what's behind the news being broadcast on tv. Japan is a country that full of secrets and lies. Ordinary people don't know what lies behind the underground world. As much as you think it's safe to go anywhere at anytime, this book is reminder and guard book to young foreigners that come looking for adventure and fun. You can easily be deceived in this country with everything so different and fascinating.
This is the best book so far and so well written. The author did go to the most details and for one who never lived here and studied what's on the Japanese minds, he sure did and understood everything about them. The author is a genius! Everything he said about the police , the system..is all true!!!!
on January 21, 2013
This book has something for everyone. It is on the face of it a true crime tour de force. Richard Lloyd Parry's talents as a journalist shine through as he digs through the detritis of a horrible crime.
For me the thing that takes this book over nearly every competitor in the genre is the way Parry brings the living victims home to the reader. Having worked in the victim services field in a police department for more than a decade I can tell you this is the most real apraisal of what happens after the crime to real families and how truly horrible a crime like this is.
This is an intense, thrilling, and nearly perfect true crime book that is hard to put down. It takes its place on the Mount Rushmore of true crime books along side Capotes In Cold Blood and Wambaugh's The Onion Field.
on February 15, 2016
Oh my God, this book was so boring, I would prefer a root canal over finishing it. I only made it halfway through and that was after finally fast-forwarding through all the irrelevant off-topic minutiae that litters this book. More does not equal better. The actually story (whatever it may be) is totally lost in the endless stream of meandering side-stories that go nowhere. I don't need the entire history of Japan, the entire history of UK-Japanese relations, the entire history of the Japanese police force. All I need is the God-d**m story. It was not forthcoming. I can see why it's $2.99. S&M is right. Spare yourself the torture.
One other thing: the author actually uses the word aeroplane instead of airplane. Need I say more?
on June 16, 2013
If you like crime stories, this one is riveting. It is very dark(!) but if you can tolerate that type of story, it is mesmerizing. What you learn about the country and its culture is so eye opening, I learned so much more than just having the satisfaction of a good thriller.
on June 28, 2013
The book was recommended by Amazon due to my interest in another book, but I feel it could have been much shorter if the author had not included numerous insignificant details about the victim's family members and other such things. As such, I found myself skipping over parts which is never a good sign. His writing was well done - diction and syntax kept the information palatable, but it is not something that I would recommend.