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
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A very good book. And yet, here's a true crime book with all the usual faults of the genre: the investigation of a single crime taking an insupportable time to solve, following dead-end after dead-end, as much about the place and the failures of the police involved as about the murder that made the book necessary, etc., etc. So why do all these otherwise disqualifying factors work so well here? Richard Lloyd Parry, a perfectly respectable journalist and foreign correspondent, turns out to be able to tell a story, and write a good book, anyway. Too often, established newspapermen, let off the chain to write at book-length, specially about crime, and specially about events they reported at the time, tend to forget themselves in tiresome ways; describing the bars they invariably sat in all night, or allowing their admiration of this or that investigator or attorney turn into some embarrassing romance on the page, or in some other way just gassing on, either about themselves, which almost never bodes well, as which of us is as interesting as all that at a keyboard, really? Or the newspaper man, given the chance just over-writes. How many journalists have always wanted to use an atmosphere and been denied? So sad. Having finished this book, I still know almost nothing about Parry. That's about right.
As for the length of the thing, and there's no denying that this is a long book, and not just by the standards of the best true crime reporting, that turns out to be about right too. The first half of Parry's book, usually the worst part of any true murder story, as the investigation goes on, and on, and on, manages to spend what in less disciplined hands would have been an unforgivable length of time in the company not just of the victim, her family and friends, but in the down-market pleasure-district where she worked as a hostess. Parry is smart. He sees a good story in the victim's unbearably sad, but also quite eccentric father. It's a good story. It teaches us something of the power of hope, and grief, and the failure of either to actually sustain something as grindingly awful as the disappearance and murder of someone's child. The victim here is seen as an adult, someone who made some unfortunate choices, with whom Parry takes just as much time as needed -- and blessedly no more -- to tell us who this woman was, and why her death was so sad. What's more, unlike so much true crime writing, Parry's story is told without trying to make this girl's life signify more than it might to those that knew and loved her, or making her less than the person she was. The reason Parry is telling this particular story however has all to do with how this became a story in Japan. That story, of a father's relentless talking at the media for months and months, of polite but incompetent police, of the rather gloomy world of foreign girls pushing drinks in dreary Japanese clubs, of other, unreported victims of the same sick man, that needs some time to tell.
The second half of the book, once the killer's known and caught and brought to trial, goes off at a busy clip, and that's right too. Too often this kind of grotesque, once he's safely clapped up in a cell, becomes the excuse for all manner of amateur psychologizing, existential gas and, frankly, monologuing above a journalist's pay-grade. The temptation to make a mastermind out of a cypher, or a demon out of a pig, must be powerful. Too few can resist the urge to write fiction. (The trouble with writing about nearly all criminals, but murderers and sexual sadists in particular, seems to be the urge to justify our collective curiosity by proving a complexity of either motive or method that simply isn't there. Some men, and a very few women, are violent or cunning in interesting or original ways, most however are just horrible -- and surprisingly uninteresting as people.) Parry can get just the littlest bit windy, but he generally resists the urge to say more than he knows or take longer to say it than he needs.
The result is a genuinely interesting case written up by the right man. He knows Japan in just the right sort of way; in it but not of it, to write about a case and a crime that might never have happened, at least not in just this perversely interesting way, anywhere else. Parry knew a story when he was writing it. He made a good book.
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