Six Four: A Novel Paperback – February 6, 2018
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"A real, out-of-the-blue original. I’ve never read anything like it. Yokoyama ?[is] a master.”? ―Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review (front cover review)
“Absorbing . . . Six Four is an intensely complicated work, fleshed out by dozens of well-sketched characters, filled with changing perceptions and surprising twists . . . Its rewards are commensurate: unexpected revelations and quiet instances of human connection.” ―Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal, The Best New Mysteries
“Six Four avoids every crime-fiction cliché. The reward is a gripping novel . . . Complex, ingenious and engrossing . . . strikingly original . . . Jonathan Lloyd-Davies has translated Six Four with unobtrusive brio . . . Yokoyama possesses that elusive trait of a first-rate novelist: the ability to grab readers’ interest and never let go.” ―Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post
“Already a bestseller in Japan and the U.K., this cinematic crime novel suffused with fascinating cultural details follows a police department reinvestigating a chilling kidnapping that stumped them 14 years earlier.” ―Entertainment Weekly, The Must List
“Six Four arrives in America as one of the most anticipated titles of the year . . . Yokoyama’s novel is a Jenga tower, each plot point and peripheral character part of an intricate balance . . . What is perhaps most striking about Six Four is the number of stories it contains.” ―Dotun Akintoye, O: The Oprah magazine
“Six Four makes its U.S. debut four years after it came out in Japan, where it was a literary blockbuster. The book sold more than a million copies and was adapted both for film and for TV. Part of its appeal was the way it illuminated the country’s deep tradition of hierarchy and control." ―Sarah Begley, Time magazine
"Not only is Six Four an addictive read, it is an education about Japan, its police and its society, and simply one of the best crime novels I have ever read." ―David Peace, author of GB84 and The Damned Utd
"A classic plot [which] suddenly turns into one of the most remarkable revenge dramas in modern detective fiction…[It] will leave even the most observant reader gasping." ―The Sunday Times
"Epic in ambition, [Six Four] unfurls like a flower in the spring sunlight, steadily increasing its grip as it does so." ―Daily Mail
“Hideo Yokoyama’s Six Four, translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, is by no means just another mystery novel, but rather an award-winning cultural phenomenon on the scale of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy . . . There is a lot of buzz around this book, all of it well deserved . . . Yokoyama’s prose is crisp and skillfully translated; the plot . . . is thoroughly believable and compelling.” ―Bruce Tierney, BookPage (Top Pick in Mystery)
“Extremely detailed style and carefully wrought characters. Six Four succeeds on several levels: as a police procedural, an incisive character study, and a cold-case mystery.” ―Jane Murphy, Booklist
“[Six Four] takes leisurely twists into the well-kept offices of Japan’s elite while providing a kind of informal sociological treatise on crime and punishment in Japanese society, to say nothing of an inside view of the police and their testy relationship with the media. Elaborate, but worth the effort. Think Jo Nesbø by way of Haruki Murakami, and with a most satisfying payoff.” ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
- Publisher : Picador; Reprint edition (February 6, 2018)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 576 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250160006
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250160003
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.47 x 1.03 x 8.29 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #731,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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Now, that said, I CAN see why Quercus decided it needed to liven up Six Four a bit. This is 600 pages or so of detailed police work. All the characters' names seem to start with A or T (with some M's thrown in for variety), so unless you are very familiar with Japanese names, you have to read carefully. (I finally made a cast of characters about halfway through, which helped a lot. Reminded me of all those nicknames in Russian novels, which can be so confusing for the non-Russian reader.)
If you are accustomed to hard-boiled or cynical American and British police procedurals, you will be surprised and fascinated by Six Four. The traditions, attitudes, and methods of work are wildly different. I was intrigued. There is an absence of cynicism which is kind of incredible. Oh, you still have disenchanted cops and ridiculous protocols and needless paperwork, but it's all done from a position of earnestness that is unlike anything you will read (or at least that I have read!) in western literature. Japan is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
This is a novel that demands full attention -- you can't be reading a chapter at bedtime along with one or two other books and expect to retain the plot details -- yet is exhausting in large doses. But I mean that in a good way; it is meticulous, and there is a real mystery to be solved, along with side mysteries that do not get resolved, or at least not in the way we may be used to. I felt as though I were getting an honest and unsentimental look at the way the police really might operate, and I thought that was invaluable.
I would recommend this book to hardcore mystery, thriller, and police procedural fans who don't mind getting in and digging deep. Six Four will not be rushed, and it will not enthrall you with knives at the throat or trusted lovers and friends who turn out to be master criminals. All the better, in my opinion.
But there are some pretty big issues with this book that made me go from thinking it might be the greatest book I've ever read to just an okay book that could've been so, so much more. I'll try to talk about these issues without spoiling anything. And don't worry, I won't say a word about the ending, in terms of who or what or how or why.
For starters, the book's ending just wasn't enough of a payoff for me to have invested so much time reading over 600 pages of story. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure you'll never see it coming (I certainly didn't), and in terms of what happens, the twist is genius and definitely exciting once it finally comes out, but the entire time I was reading the story, I kept asking myself if I was reading more about daily life working as a police officer in Japan, or if I was reading a mystery story about an old kidnapping and murder case that suddenly had meaning and bearing to the present time that the book was written. So, in other words, if I took all the pages the actual six four kidnapping story and murder was being discussed, it would amount to maybe 100 pages? Maybe less? The other 500 plus pages are dealing with the internal politics of many police officers who were surrounding the case and what it was doing to them and for them. It just didn't have the creepy, murder mystery vibe that I enjoy with murder mystery novels. It felt more like I was reading tv scripts for episodes of the Japanese version of Law and Order, or something like that. I mean, for a huge majority of the beginning part of the book, six four is pushed way to the very back and there is a gigantic back and forth about police covering up doing bad things in favor of anonymous reporting, which truly (and to some degree, justifiably so) upsets reporters who deal with the police on a daily basis.
Yet here's the catch about what I just wrote: the ending doesn't work without all of the internal politics being discussed at length. It just wouldn't have any impact at all, or even matter, if the large cast of characters and their motives and actions weren't discussed at length in preparation for what was the last few pages of the book. I noticed that the story was woven extremely tightly together, and as I wondered if I was an editor and could cut stuff from the story, what would I cut? The answer is nothing. Every word is in its right place, weird as that may sound. The problem though was the meat and fun stuff that I like to read about when it comes to kidnappings and murder mysteries wasn't enough there to satisfy my hunger.
Another problem was that the ending was.... well, lets just say rather underwhelming. I wanted to be swept away by emotional tides when the ending came to this book, but I didn't feel really anything too intense. I literally said out loud when I was done reading, "That's it?" I mean, that's never a good thing to say when you're done with a 600 plus page novel, you know?
The biggest issue I had wasn't really so much what I just wrote but the fact that Mikami's own daughter, Ayumi, is missing (this is right at the beginning of the story, so no spoiler there), and the entire book just seems to toss this aside. As a father of a daughter, it would be my absolute worst nightmare if she left the house one day and never came back. I couldn't go to work anymore, or stay at home. I would be out there hunting for her. And that's where I have the biggest problem here: Mikami is a veteran detective, yet he throws himself into his job more than about worrying to find his daughter. You would think after working the six four kidnapping case many years ago that he would be truly haunted and terrified of the same thing possibly happening to his own child, but it's like Mikami doesn't seem to think much about Ayumi until it's convenient to advance the plot or to end a chapter with an ominous thought about Ayumi. I mean, this girl is Mikami's only child too. Why wouldn't he be using his detective pedigree to be out there chasing after her every single day? I know it mentions that he certainly did try to do this, but to me, it's not enough. And still... and still, this wouldn't even be so bad if the book had given us a heaven or hell resolution to Ayumi's story. Instead all I got was.....limbo?
I would recommend reading this book if you have nothing else to read and want a great book that showcases Japanese police and what it's like to be a Japanese police officer. I'm assuming it's based a lot on truth and Hideo's own experiences with police in Japan. However, if you are looking for a story that resolves anything it starts, has huge consequences for its characters that justify the long narrative page count, and inserts just enough fantasy into the reality of the story to make it truly a work of fiction instead of a huge attempt at writing a non-fiction documentary, this isn't that book. Still a good read, and an impressive look into the Japanese psyche and mindset as well as the workplace in Japan and also police in Japan and their lack of apparent humanity or true empathy for not one but two families who are or have been suffering from a horrible crime.
Top reviews from other countries
Instead, this is a superb psychological novel about the effects of one particularly dreadful unsolved crime on the victim's family, individual police officers and the institution of the police itself. It is slow-burning, but it gets there in the end. I won't go into a detailed plot summary of Six Four here, but would refer you to Terrence Rafferty's excellent review in the New York Times (21/02/2017). Rafferty *gets* this novel in a way no other reviewer (of those I have seen) has so far.
As it happens, I do know Japan fairly well. I read Japanese history and literature in university, then spent a number of years living and working there. I am competent in the spoken language and can negotiate the written language well enough to get by. But even with my background, there are aspects of Six Four that I found challenging. You may find that you need to do a little homework to get the most out of the book.
For instance, there are a *lot* of characters, many of whom have rather similar names. This actually turns out to be significant to the story, but it can be difficult keeping everyone straight. I believe the paperback edition has a 'who's who' but the Kindle edition, which I read, does not. If you are reading a version without a 'cast of characters' it will be worthwhile to make notes of each new character -- name, gender, brief description.
The other thing which, again, *may* be included in hard-copy editions but wasn't in the Kindle edition, is a glossary for the many Japanese words which are left untranslated. I can understand the decision *not* to translate -- many, many Japanese words describe things which simply don't exist outside of Japan and for which there is no good translation without being awkward or misleading. Words like 'kotatsu,' 'bento,' 'koban,' 'chome' are best left in Japanese...but if the decision is made to do this, you really should provide a glossary, or note, at the end of the book to explain how these words, and the objects/concepts they signify, fit into the culture. I had no problem with this, but then, I speak Japanese. Most people don't. But the information is out there -- again, if you decide to read Six Four, be ready to look things up on Google so that you fully understand what is going on.
Similarly, a major plot point turns on one specific aspect of the Japanese writing system and an end-note explaining this would have been helpful for most readers who have no knowledge of the Japanese language. But again, the internet is your friend: a bit of background reading on the three main components of Japanese writing -- hiragana, katakana and kanji -- will aid your understanding no end.
I would also advise prospective readers that they may find some aspects of the story hard to believe...do people in Japan really bow that low, and spend that much time thinking about the politics of apologies? Yes, they do. Do people really spend that much time at work? Yes, they do. Is there really that much institutional sexism in the workplace? Sadly, yes, there is (although Japanese women have become unbelievably skilled at finding ways to pull strings and exercise their power from behind the scenes). It is worth noting that most of the action of the book takes place in late 2002, and socially things have moved on a bit since then. Even in Japan, things change...but perhaps more slowly than in other places.
Six Four, more than any other Japanese novel I've read in the last ten years, made me feel like I was back in Japan. Maybe not the romantic, picture-postcard part of Japan (which *does* exist!) but the gritty, workaday part...which has its own kind of beauty. If you are interested in Japan, or want to learn more about the country *and* you enjoy a challenge *and*, as a reader, you aren't afraid of a bit of hard work, I would thoroughly recommend this novel.
For Japanese readers I can imagine this is a quite interesting take on the police thriller because of the main character Mikami's position in the Media Relations department, rather than as a detective, but the cultural gap for non-Japanese readers is really quite a chasm. Some say that a detective story is a really good way to examine society, and I agree; but this is one very extreme case. This book really needs either a good working knowledge of Japanese society, attitudes and organisational culture, or a deep curiosity about those things and a willingness to take things as you find them, as a baseline in order for it to make much sense. The apparently random internal transfers that are a fact of life in Japanese workplaces, the attitudes to superiors and subordinates, the intensely private interpersonal dynamics are all very different, as are innumerable other minor details.
Even then, as a British person I have preconcieved notions about what police are, what they do, how they work as an organisation and what their principles are. Every one of these was seriously challenged by this book. If this book is to be believed, the Japanese police force is a truly unrecogniseable institution in comparison. That is perhaps the book's key strength, as the sheer difference of it all prompts you to learn more about this utterly weird, deeply factional organisation that appears to think of catching criminals as a secondary and rather background affair compared to its own interior political struggles and institutional structural integrity.
At the same time it's a weakness, as it's very hard to simply take the characters and their actions and thought processes seriously as real people, given how far removed they are from what you might expect of a police force (or family, come to that - family dynamics are also very different, in ways one might not expect). Their values, motivation and drive is very hard to comprehend for me, and I already have many years of experience dealing with Japanese people, so for someone without any particular knowledge of Japan I can see this book being nearly impossible to read or understand. That's not to say the characters are actually badly-fashioned, though; they're very well fleshed out, just in ways that are hard to empathise with in a lot of cases, including the protagonist, who it was hard not to call an idiot for his attitudes at times, despite his intelligence, aims and sensitivity.
As an example, a central part of the story is the ideological principle behind releasing the personal details of victims or suspects to the media. To me, the basic idea of the press simply being given names by the police is incomprehensible; people have a basic human right to privacy that should never be violated by protectors of the citizenry in such a way, and if journalists do eventually get names it's because they've investigated, or because police decide releasing a name is going to help an investigation. But the press in this book are very upset not to be simply handed these details at press conferences as a matter of routine; I had no idea such a subject would ever be up for debate, and the solution that is ultimately reached, even though it deals with a universal theme, seems like something that would only ever happen in Japan.
It's also treading a fine line between making something interesting because it's unfamiliar, in particular the complicated relationship between the police and the media, and just being too enormously complicated or just plain *out there* to actually become engaging at all. The cast of characters is huge and convoluted, and for an important reason many of them have similar-sounding names as well, and a weakness of the author or possibly translator's style is the lack of any sort of introductory preamble to help the reader understand anything about the massive and complex organisation into the middle of whose political wiles they are about to be unceremoniously dumped, and who belongs to what part within it. Even people who work in a company need an org chart sometimes.
It's hard to recommend, despite how unusual it is. This breath of fresh air is too fresh for a lot of English-language readers. If you know Japan, or like me you think you do, you might find it interesting and enlightening, but unless you're willing to work hard for what is ultimately not that satisfying a story, it may not be for you.
It's not a whodunit by any means but certain correct assumptions can be drawn very early on which then make the plot side element drag.
I would recommend this to people that think the The Silmarilion is concise.
I would not recommend this to people who have read other popular Japanese works such as The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, The Devotion of Suspect X, Ring etc. If you liked those kinds of books this will probably be somewhat annoying.