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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Six Four

Yokoyama Hideo

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To purchase Six Four

Title: Six Four
Author: Yokoyama Hideo
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 525 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Six Four - US
Six Four - UK
Six Four - Canada
Six Four - India
Six-Quatre - France
64 - Deutschland
Sei Quattro - Italia
  • Japanese title: 64
  • Translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies

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Our Assessment:

B : a very different sort of police procedural

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 25/11/2016 Ian Thomson
The Guardian . 1/3/2016 Alison Flood
The Independent . 7/3/2016 Barry Forshaw
The Japan Times . 16/4/2016 J.J.O'Donoghue
The NY Times Book Rev. A 26/2/2017 Terrence Rafferty
The Observer . 4/3/2016 Mark Lawson
San Francisco Chronicle A 9/5/2017 G.L. Miller
The Spectator . 23/4/2016 Jeff Noon
Sunday Times . 28/2/2016 Joan Smith
Time . 9/2/2017 Sarah Begley
TLS . 15/6/2016 Justin Warshaw
The Washington Post A 29/1/2017 Dennis Drabelle

  Review Consensus:

  Maybe a bit too long, but impressive, especially in providing insight into another culture

  From the Reviews:
  • "Although somewhat lacking in action, the pleasure of this gripping mystery lies in the slow-burning art of deduction." - Ian Thomson, Financial Times

  • "Over its 600-odd pages, Six Four is the slowest of slow-burn crime novels. It takes the classic elements of the genre but steers decisively away from putting them together in the usual way, instead providing a layered insight into internal police politics. At times, it is too easy to get lost in the morass of detail and characters and passionate concerns over issues it is hard to get worked up over. But the twist and the pay-off are worth the wait" - Alison Flood, The Guardian

  • "But does the book justify its considerable length ? Well, it is not a book for the casual reader. Yokoyama demands the closest attention, with a distancing narrative style (much of the plot is recalled after the event) (...) In the final analysis, though, Six Four gives back in abundance everything that the reader is prepared to give. For all its prolixity, this is an idiosyncratic and richly worked narrative, demonstrating that crime fiction can be freighted with the weight and authority of serious literature. The patient reader will find themselves handsomely rewarded." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "Yokoyama’s strength lies in his portrayal of the police: the stifling hierarchy, the politics and duplicity Mikami has to navigate." - J.J.O'Donoghuem The Japan Times

  • "(S)uperb (.....) The police-procedural subgenre of crime fiction has, Lord knows, supplied plenty of tormented investigators for its readers’ morbid pleasure, but this detective’s emotional issues aren’t of a kind we’re at all accustomed to. (...) What Yokoyama does in Six Four evokes -- improbably -- the fastidious ethical parsings of a novel by Henry James, all qualms and calibrations, and while that might not sound like a good idea, he makes it work. (...) (T)his novel is a real, out-of-the-blue original. I’ve never read anything like it." - Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The plot would grip in any language but, for readers in the west, there is extra fascination in Six Four being not just a police procedural but a guide book to Japan. (...) Jonathan Lloyd-Davies’ English reads speedily and cleanly. Much of the prose is simple atmospherics (...) but there are also deeper moments" - Mark Lawson, The Observer

  • "The set-up is meticulous, the pace slow at first -- necessarily so. Some readers will give up. They will miss out. (...) (W)hat emerges, surprisingly, is a tale of excruciating, deeply pleasurable suspense. The novel’s startling final act is simply masterful. Six Four is also a fascinating portrait of contemporary Japan." - Gregory Leon Miller, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "This is a doorstopper of a book, crammed with detail, and the reader needs a bit of patience to get through certain passages. Could it have lost 100 pages ? Probably. But the weight of the book is part of its appeal, and there are always fresh surprises to pull the reader along." - Jeff Noon, The Spectator

  • "Hideo’s portrayal of Mikami owes nothing to the one-dimensional gumshoes of Western detective fiction. He develops his central character with the simplicity of a haiku and complexity of a Kyoto feast. (...) The denouement is surprising, but there are no neat endings to the various strands of this well-written epic tale, which reads beautifully in Jonathan Lloyd-Davies’s translation. Six Four is far more a monument to the idiosyncrasies of Japanese bureaucratic life than it is a simple detective story." - Justin Warshaw, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(C)omplex, ingenious and engrossing (.....) You will find yourself caring more than you thought possible about the rivalry between Criminal Investigations and Administrative Affairs. And if not a bow, you will at least want to give Hideo Yokoyama a tip of your hat for writing such a highly entertaining book." - Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title of this novel, Six Four, is in part a reference to the last year of the Showa era (1989), as in Japan the calendar is re-set with every new emperor: the sixty-four-year Hirohito-reign was the Showa era, while we are now approaching thirty years of the Heisei era (under Akihito). In Prefecture D, 'Six Four' it is also what the police call "the Prefectural HQ's greatest failure", a kidnapping case that remains unsolved to the day the novel is set in, fourteen years later. Back then, shortly after New Year's -- and only days before the Emperor's death -- seven-year-old Shoko Amamiya was kidnapped, and the kidnapper(s) got away with the ransom -- and the girl was found dead. The main character of the novel, Yoshinobu Mikami, was one of the many policemen closely involved in the case.
       Recently, the enthusiastic investigator found himself sidelined from the kind of police work he enjoyed. Having spent most of his career as a detective, the forty-six-year-old now finds himself the local Press Director, heading the Media Relations section in the Administrative Affairs Department -- a far cry from Criminal Investigations, to which he hopes to be returned. The married Mikami has suffered a loss of his own more recently, too, his sixteen-year-old daughter Ayumi having run away from home. Suffering from her looks -- inherited from her father -- she finally simply broke with her parents; now Mikami's wife, Minako, spends her days waiting for the phone to ring -- certain that a handful of recent anonymous calls, where the other party remained silent, are signs that Ayumi is reaching out -- and back.
       Mikami is having difficulties at work too, the press getting on his back about the police keeping information from them, specifically issues of anonymity -- the names of those involved in accidents and crimes, suspects and victims alike. This debate about anonymity is actually a major part of the novel, and the conflict between police and press pool takes up a great deal of the action. Aspects of this will likely strike non-Japanese readers as bizarre, noticeably the emphasis on saving face and the very strict hierarchies, especially in the police. So, for example, one of the biggest potential catastrophes Mikami faces is the press pools' demand that they be able to submit a written protest to a senior official. While this sounds entirely harmless, or at worst annoying, it is apparently seen as completely inappropriate and has to be stopped at all costs. (This also stands in striking contrast to the physical behavior of both press and police, who repeatedly manhandle each other -- getting confrontationally physical in ways which would surely be considered out of bounds in European or American settings.)
       Meanwhile, the 'Six Four'-investigation also comes to the fore again. The police had never allowed it to become a completely cold case -- but now: "only twenty-five detectives remained on the case" (yeah, that still seems like a hell of a lot ...), and everyone knows the situation: "The case was frozen solid; it wouldn't budge an inch". There should be a bit of a sense of urgency, too, as the fifteen-year statute of limitations is due to run out soon. [Yes, amazingly, at the time, Japanese only had a fifteen year statute of limitations on some crimes that reulted in death, presumably including kidnapping; in 2010 this was doubled to thirty years, while the statute of limitations for some capital crimes, including murder, was abolished entirely.] Apparently in the hopes of re-focusing attention on the case Prefecture D is getting a visit from high, high up: the commissioner general is coming in person, the: "man who sat at the very top of the pyramid, above the 260,000 officers in the police force". This is a very, very big deal.
       Mikami is in charge of organizing the press coverage, but that just gives the press more leverage regarding their current complaints, complicating matters. Worse, when he approaches the kidnapping victim's father, the man politely declines the offer of having the commissioner general drop by and pay his respects -- which would be yet another incredible slap in the face for the police.
       There's less than a week to get everything ready, and things seem to go from bad to worse, day by day. Mikami is kept very busy, and just when he thinks he has one thing under control, the next -- and worse -- complication crops up. Part of his frustration is that he's being kept out of some of the loops. He learns that the press might have a point about the police's stance on privacy, as some things are being covered up. And he realizes that something apparently went really wrong in the Six Four investigation fourteen years earlier.
       Mikami is not the only one trying to figure out what happened back then, but given what's become of some of those who were at the scene -- one former officer toils now as a security guard, another is a hikikomori (though they only go with the term: 'recluse' in the US edition), having withdrawn from society and retreated to his room all those years ago (and still stuck silently there) -- it's clear it was something bad. As it turns out, this seems to be one of those cases where the cover up is worse than the crime -- but it certainly disillusions Mikami further about how the police operates.
       Meanwhile, it's also becoming clear that the local conflicts, turf war of sorts -- between the administrative side, which Mikami is currently stuck on, and the criminal investigation side of the force (which he desperately wants to rejoin) -- are escalating. And Mikami comes to realize that the visit of the commissioner general bodes something even bigger and potentially more devastating for the local department.
       For well over half the book, Six Four is less police procedural than ... administrative account, a workplace novel. There's lots of conflict, and some suspense -- albeit often about saving-face issues that many non-Japanese readers likely will find it difficult to take in any way seriously -- and the picture of how the police operates (in an obviously low-crime environment where the police can spend all their time on this sort of stuff, as there doesn't seem to be a single serious crime they have to bother to look into for almost the entire time). But then something happens that upends everything: there's a reported kidnapping, and, although the victim is considerably older than the one of fourteen years ago, it bears striking similarities to th Six Four case. It is no coïncidence, of course -- but Mikami still has to work hard to connect the pieces, until eventually things become clear.
       Time becomes of the essence once there's word of a missing girl, but it's typical for this thriller that, even when he's kind of needed elsewhere (like for wrangling the press, which is kind of his job) Mikami literally spends hours hidden in a bathroom stall, simply in the hopes of getting a chance for a private conversation with a superior.
       Indeed, a great deal of Six Four focuses on navigating personal and professional relations, and this is probably the most intriguing aspect of the novel. It can seem an odd way of conducting police work -- though in the end the professionals prove extremely professional. But what Yokoyama does best is showing Mikami's interactions: yes, some of these are too abrupt, but especially in the more personal ones, with his press department colleagues and his wife, or his interactions with the father of the original kidnapping victim, he's very good. So, for example, also when a young female colleague Mikami has been protective of calls him out on his keeping her from the fray:

It's clear you're unhappy with the way things are done, with having to put aside your ideals, having to use dirty tricks, that you're trying to tell yourself you've got no ther choice. [...] It's not fair to use me as a surrogate. It's cruel. You're trying to keep me pure, keep me away from the dirty work, so you can feel better about yourself.
       Impressively, Yokoyama does tie together what may have seemed as loose, or certainly disparate, threads by the end, as a variety of details come into play in unexpected ways in the novel's resolution, even the case of Mikami's missing daughter (which, thankfully, Yokoyama does not (ab)use in any of the predictable ways) as well as many of the press (and press-dynamics) issues.
       A few episodes aside (like the bathroom wait ...), Six Four arguably isn't really too long -- there's a reason and place for all of this -- but it does feel pretty long. While the other-culture conflicts are intriguing, some of them -- especially regarding the press -- seem incredibly silly, which doesn't help. Yokoyama's writing and pacing frequently impresses, especially in not following the usual police-procedural ABCs, but it is uneven: Mikami's occasionally short fuse is used to poor effect in cutting short some scenes that could actually have done with more elaboration. And there are the occasional sentences such as:
The fried rice wasn't the only thing lying undigested in his gut.
       Overall, Six Four is a solid read -- not quite a thriller, but appealing in the oddity of what is considered important, and the characters' dedication. And Mikami, on whom the story tightly focuses, is presented very well, and in good personal and professional balance. An interesting read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 Janauary 2017

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Six Four: Reviews: Other books by Yokoyama Hideo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Yokoyama Hideo (横山秀夫) was born in 1957.

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