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Cover courtesy of FSG
Cover courtesy of FSG
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Read an Excerpt from 'Six Four', the Japanese Crime Thriller That Has Everyone Talking

Picture of Michael Barron
Books and Digest Editor
Updated: 13 March 2017
Crime novel Six Four sold over a million copies when it was released in Japan; its author, Hideo Yokoyama, is widely hailed as the next Stieg Larsson. This sensational crime thriller begins with a detective on the search for two missing persons—a cold case of a missing seven-year-old girl, and the disappearance of his own daughter. But if this sounds familiar, Six Four offers what most crime novels do not: a nuance of Japanese culture (aspects of which will prove key to cracking the case) that fuels the interest of the reader alongside The Wire and True Detective-like storytelling. Read the sample below to see what we mean.

Outside of the lunch hour it was rare to pass anyone in the second-floor corridor. ACCOUNTING. TRAINING. INTERNAL AFFAIRS. The doors to each division were shut tight, keeping prying eyes out. It was quiet. Mikami’s footsteps provided the only sound as they echoed on the corridor’s waxed floor. ADMINISTRATIVE AFFAIRS. The words on the faded doorplate seemed to demand a certain feeling of apprehension. Mikami pushed open the door. Division Chief Shirota was sitting up ahead, at the far end of the room; Mikami bowed in silence before walking over, checking the inspector’s window desk out of the corner of his eye. Futawatari wasn’t there. His light was off, and the desk was clear of papers. If he wasn’t having a day off, he was probably in Personnel, on the second floor of the north building. Rumor had it that planning was already under way for the following spring’s personnel transfers. Futawatari was in charge of putting together a proposal for changes in executive positions. This fact had been a source of discomfort ever since Mikami had learned about it from Chief Ishii. What did it mean for his own transfer? Had his unplanned return to Media Relations really been the sole decision of Director Akama?

Mikami cut through the room and knocked on the door to Akama’s office.

“Enter.” The response came from Ishii. As it had been on the phone, his voice was pitched an octave higher than usual.

“You wanted to see me?”

Mikami made his way over the thick carpet. Akama was sitting back on a couch, his fingers scratching at his chin. The gold-rimmed glasses. The tailored pinstripe suit. The distant, angled gaze. His appearance was no different than usual—the image of executive management, the kind new recruits were so apt to dream of emulating. At forty-one, he was five years Mikami’s junior. The balding man in his fifties, typically sycophantic as he sat bolt upright next to Akama, was Ishii. He gestured for Mikami to come over. Akama didn’t wait for Mikami to sit before he opened his mouth.

“It must have been…unpleasant.” His tone was casual, as though to suggest Mikami had been caught in an evening shower.

“No, it’s…I’m sorry to let personal issues get in the way of my work.”

“Nothing to worry about. Please, take a seat. How were the locals? I assume they treated you well?”

“They did. They took good care of me, the station captain in particular.”

“That’s good to hear. I’ll make sure to send my personal thanks.”

His custodial tone grated.

It had happened three months earlier. Seeing no possible alternative, Mikami had approached Akama for help. He had confided that his daughter had run away from home just one day earlier, and appealed for the search to be expanded from his local district station to include the other stations throughout the prefecture. Akama’s reaction had been completely unexpected. He had scrawled a note on the search request Mikami had brought with him, then called Ishii in and instructed him to fax the document to headquarters in Tokyo. Perhaps that meant the Community Security Bureau. Or the Criminal Investigations Bureau. Maybe even the commissioner general’s Secretariat. Akama had then put down his pen and said, “You don’t need to worry. I’ll have special arrangements in place before the day is out, from Hokkaido to Okinawa.”

Mikami couldn’t forget the look of triumph on Akama’s face. He had known immediately that it contained more than a simple look of superiority at having demonstrated his authority as a Tokyo bureaucrat. Akama’s eyes had lit up with the expectation of change. They had become fixated on him, peering from behind those gold-rimmed glasses, desperate not to miss the moment this upstart regional superintendent who had resisted for so long finally capitulated. Mikami had shivered to the core, realizing he’d given Akama a weakness to exploit. How else could he have responded, though, as a father concerned for the safety of his daughter?

Thank you. I am in your debt.

Mikami had bowed. He’d held his head under the table, lower than his knees…

“And this, the second time now. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to make those trips.” Not for the first time, Akama was dwelling on the subject of Ayumi. “I know I’ve suggested this before, but perhaps you might consider releasing more of your daughter’s details? More than just her photo and physical characteristics. There are all sorts of other things—fingerprints, dental records, for example?”

Mikami had of course considered all these before Akama suggested it. It was close to torture each time he was called out, each time he had to peel the white cloth from the face of a corpse. And Minako’s nerves were stretched to breaking. Yet he remained hesitant. Fingerprints. Handprints. Dental impressions. Records of dental treatment. All were types of data most effectively used in the identification of dead bodies. I want you to look for my daughter’s corpse. It was tantamount to saying exactly that, and Mikami couldn’t bear the idea.

“I’ll need some more time to think about it.”

“Well, be quick. We want to keep any losses to a minimum.”

Losses?

Mikami called on his sense of reason, forcing down the surge of anger. Akama was trying to provoke him. Testing the extent of his submission. Pulling himself together, Mikami said, “What was it you wanted to see me for?”

All the curiosity drained from Akama’s eyes.

“The truth is,” Ishii said, leaning forward in his seat—it was clear he’d been itching to speak the whole time—“the commissioner general is going to pay us an official visit.”

It took a moment for Mikami to respond. This was not what he’d expected.

“The commissioner general?”

“We’ve just been notified ourselves. It’s scheduled for this time next week, so as you can imagine, we’re in a bit of a flap. I can’t think how many years it’s been since the last commissioner’s visit…”

Perhaps it was the presence in the room of Akama—a career officer from Tokyo—that worsened the effect. It was embarrassing to bear witness to Ishii’s obvious excitement. The commissioner general, the National Police Agency. The commissioner was a man who sat at the very top of the pyramid, above the 260,000 officers in the police force. To the regional police, he was like an emperor. And yet, was an official visit really something to get so worked up about? It was at times like this that Ishii showed his limitations. He held the National Police Agency in awe, looking on with an artless longing, just as a youth raised in the country might dream of the city.

“What’s the purpose of the visit?” Mikami asked, his mind already on the job. He had been summoned as press director, which meant there was probably a strong PR element to the visit.

“Six Four.”

This time, it was Akama who replied. Mikami looked at him, taken aback. There was an expectant smirk in Akama’s eyes.

Six Four. The term for a fourteen-year-old case, the kidnapping and murder of a young girl named Shoko.

It had been the first full-scale kidnapping to take place within the jurisdiction of Prefecture D. After the kidnapper had successfully made away with the ransom of 20 million yen, the police had tragically discovered the corpse of the kidnapped seven-year-old. The identity of the kidnapper remained unknown. The case was unsolved even after all these years. At the time, Mikami had been working for Special Investigations in First Division and, as a member of the Close Pursuit Unit, had followed Shoko’s father as he drove to the ransom exchange point. It was enough to have the painful memory revived, but the greatest shock was to hear Akama— a career bureaucrat and an outsider who’d had nothing to do with the investigation—use the term Criminal Investigations had privately adopted to describe the kidnapping. Behind his back, people referred to him as a data freak, a compulsive researcher. Was Mikami to take it that Akama’s network of informers had, after only a year and a half of his being in the post, already infiltrated the inner workings of Criminal Investigations?

Even so . . .

The question was replaced by another. It went without saying that Six Four was the Prefectural HQ’s greatest failure. Even in Tokyo, at the level of the National Police Agency, it still ranked as one of the most significant cases that had yet to be closed. At the same time, no one would dispute the fact that, as fourteen years had slipped by since the kidnapping, the memory of the case had begun to fade. What had once been a two-hundred-strong Investigative HQ had, over the course of time, undergone a process of downsizing so that now only twenty-five detectives remained on the case. While the Investigative HQ hadn’t been shut down, it had been downgraded internally to Investigative Team. Just over a year remained until the statute of limitations came into effect. Mikami no longer overheard the case being discussed in public. And he’d heard that information from the general public had dried up a long time ago. It was the same for the press, who seemed to remember the case in only one article a year, a token gesture to mark the date of the kidnapping. It was gathering moss; why, now, had it become the focus of a commissioner’s visit? We intend to do everything we can before the statute comes into effect. Was that what it was, a show of fireworks for the public?

“What is the visit for?” Mikami asked, and Akama’s smile deepened in response.

“To make an appeal, inside and outside the force, and to give a boost to the officers still investigating the case. To reinforce our intention never to let violent crime go unpunished.”

“The kidnapping took place fourteen years ago. May I assume the visit is related to the statute of limitations?”

“What could have more impact than the commissioner’s message relating to this old case? I am told it was the commissioner’s own idea. Although, I do believe his appeal is intended more to reach an internal audience than the general public.”

An internal audience. With those words, everything seemed to fall into place.

Tokyo. Politics.

“Anyway, here’s the detailed schedule for the day.”

Ishii picked up a sheet of paper. Mikami quickly pulled out his notebook.

“Note that this isn’t official as yet. Right—so the commissioner is due to arrive by car at noon. After lunch with the station captain, he will go directly to Sada-cho and visit the site where the girl’s body was discovered. While there, he will make an offering of flowers and incense. Following that, he will go to the Investigative HQ in Central Station and give praise and encouragement to the team. From there he would like to pay a visit to the bereaved family’s home in order to pay his respects. There, another offering of incense. After that he wants to take a walking interview between the house and his car. That’s the overall picture, as it is now.”

Mikami had stopped scribbling his notes. “He wants a walking interview?” A walking interview meant the press gathering around him to ask their questions as he stood—or continued walking— outside the house.

“Exactly. That’s what the Secretariat has requested. No doubt they feel it will have a more dynamic feel than a formal session, say, in a conference room.”

Mikami felt his mood darken. The unforgiving faces of the reporters flashed through his mind. “Where does he want the photographs? At the site where the body was found?”

“No. Those would be at the family home.”

“He wants the reporters to come inside.”

“Would it be too small for that?”

“No, not really, but—”

“The commissioner paying his respects at the altar, the bereaved parents in the background. That’s the picture he wants for the TV and papers.”

The chief executive of the police giving the bereaved his assurances that the kidnapper would be caught. It certainly had impact.

“There isn’t much time; make sure you get the family’s permission in the next day or two,” Akama said from one side. He had reverted to his normal way of issuing orders.

Mikami made an ambivalent nod.

“Hmm? Is there something you wish to raise?”

“No . . .” He doubted the family would decline to accept the commissioner’s visit. At the same time, he felt uncomfortable with the idea of visiting them to make the request. They had hardly exchanged words at the time of the kidnapping. Only the members of the Home Unit had spoken with them in any real detail. And then he’d been transferred. His posting to Second Division had come only three months after the kidnapping had taken place; he had completely lost touch with the progress of the case.

“Okay. I’ll check in with the Six Four team first, to see if they can provide me with an update on the family,” Mikami said, choosing his words carefully.

Akama frowned in disapproval. “I shouldn’t think that is necessary. My understanding is that you are already acquainted with the family. No, your request is to be made directly. There’s no need to involve Criminal Investigations.”

“But that’s—”

“This is the remit of Administrative Affairs. Surely it would only complicate matters to bring Criminal Investigations into the fray? Once you have the groundwork in place, I will contact the director personally. Until then, you are to treat this matter as confidential.”

Confidential? Mikami couldn’t gauge Akama’s true intent. Organizing the visit without Criminal Investigations knowing? It was painfully clear that doing so would only complicate matters even more, and the case in question was nothing less than Six Four.

“Also, with regard to the press…” Akama continued, paying no heed. “As I believe this is the first time you’ve handled something like this, let me explain a couple of things. The walking interview will give all the appearance of being casual, but it won’t do for us to grant the press access to the commissioner without first applying restrictions. Our preparations must be on a par with those for a member of the Diet. It would be untenable if the commissioner were to stumble over any capricious or otherwise irresponsible questions. The first thing you must do is get the Press Club to compose and submit a list of questions in advance. They will have around ten minutes to ask questions on the day. Also, only the paper representing the club this month will be permitted to conduct the interview. And you must impress on them the importance of not asking any awkward questions. Is this clear?”

Mikami looked down at his notes. He accepted that it was necessary to consult with the press beforehand. The question was whether rational discussion was possible, given the current situation.

“I assume the press were…vocal again this morning?”

Had Akama noticed his unease? No, someone had probably already told him about the situation in Media Relations.

“What’s it really like?”

“Worse than before. I refused to give way on the anonymous reporting.”

“Very good. We mustn’t let down our guard. They will only get cocky, try to take advantage, the moment we show any signs of weakness. Force them into submission. We provide the information, and they accept it. You need to drum that into them.”

His talk apparently over, he had started riffling through his jacket pockets, as though having remembered that he had been looking for something. Mikami peered at Ishii out of the corner of his eye. He was scribbling something in red, as exuberant-looking as earlier. Mikami’s foreboding had been right on the mark. He felt more weighed down than when he had entered the office.

“Right—if that’s everything…”

Mikami snapped his notebook shut and got to his feet. Perhaps there was something in his bearing that suggested to Akama a false obedience—he called out just as Mikami was leaving the room.

“You are the spitting image, you know. You must really cherish her.”

Mikami stopped. He turned around cautiously. In his hand, Akama was brandishing the photo of Ayumi the police were using for the search. The spitting image. Mikami hadn’t told Akama the reason why Ayumi had run away. His face burned regardless. In that instant, his façade of calm crumbled. Akama looked smug.

“The fingerprints, dental records—why don’t you discuss it some more with your wife? I just want to do all we can for you.”

Mikami’s struggle lasted only seconds.

“Thank you.”

He bowed deeply from the waist. As he did so, he felt the blood coursing through his body.

Excerpted from SIX FOUR: A Novel by Hideo Yokoyama, translated from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, to be published in February 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2012 by Hideo Yokoyama. English translation copyright © 2016 by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies. All rights reserved.