Prior to writing crime novels, Hideo Yokoyama worked at the Jomo Shimbun newspaper in Gunma Prefecture for 12 years, first as a police reporter and then as a desk editor. The police beat, and the relationship between the police and press is central to the complex machinations in “Six Four,” Yokoyama’s first novel to be translated into English.
Published originally in two volumes in 2012, “Six Four” was hugely popular in Japan. The English translation combines the two books into one, and is heavy enough to break a shelf.
The novel’s title refers to Showa 64, the final year of the Showa Period (1926-1989), which was when schoolgirl Shoko is kidnapped. The ransom was paid but she was murdered and her killer never found.
The book begins years later with Inspector Mikami, the protagonist of “Six Four,” in the company of his wife in an autopsy room — their teenage daughter has disappeared and they’re checking bodies. Mikami was one of the detectives charged with retrieving Shoko and he is now the Police’s press director. But the issue of his missing daughter is only a shadow that haunts the story. Instead, the plot revolves another kidnapping, one almost identical to Shoko’s.
Yokoyama’s strength lies in his portrayal of the police: the stifling hierarchy, the politics and duplicity Mikami has to navigate. In true police-procedural fashion “Six Four” takes its time to reach its conclusion, all the while fleshing out characters who are headed for a denouement that is as original as it is ingenious.