Thursday, 16 May 2013

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 - Richard Lloyd Parry

Lucie Blackman—tall, blond, twenty-one years old—stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave.

Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, covered Lucie’s disappearance and followed the massive search for her, the long investigation, and the even longer trial. Over ten years, he earned the trust of her family and friends, won unique access to the Japanese detectives and Japan’s convoluted legal system, and delved deep into the mind of the man accused of the crime, Joji Obara, described by the judge as “unprecedented and extremely evil.”

The result is a book at once thrilling and revelatory, “In Cold Blood for our times” (Chris Cleave, author of Incendiary and Little Bee).

I picked up People Who Eat Darkness on the recommendation of a friend. She had been raving about it when we went to dinner a few nights before so when I saw it at the bookstore later on in the week, I had to pick it up. I've kind of been on a true crime kick lately and a recommendation from someone I trust made sure that this was not to be missed.

There are two main aspects to this book: the exploration into Japanese culture, especially host culture and the exploration into the psyche of Joji Obara, the man ultimately accused of the crime. On the first count, I can honestly say that I don't think I learned too terribly much, not because Parry isn't very informative, as he is, but because I've lived in Japan and this was something that I already understood. However, although it wasn't new information, it was somehow interesting to hear it discussed and dissected, looking at it from the eyes of a culture that doesn't understand. Parry does an excellent job of explaining exactly what Lucie had gotten into and does it without painting hostess culture black. It's very interesting.

As for Joji Obara, my word. That was a fascinating chapter. The man is mad as a hatter. From changing his name twice before turning eighteen to being saddled with a seriously dysfunctional family to the vanity book he publishes to "prove" his innocence. Reading about his past and his habits made for interesting, if slightly frightening, reading. I couldn't put the book down. Seriously. I stayed up until 4 AM to finish it.

Parry followed the story from the beginning, all the way through to the verdict years later and because of this, he has a firm grasp of the story. He has personal relations with everyone involved and while you can tell he's trying his best to stay impartial, his reason also peaks through, giving the reader an idea on his thoughts on certain topics. He also gets drawn into the story himself at the end, becoming the target of an Obara outburst while he is trying to get an interview. That was an interesting moment.

Parry writes with compassion, knowledge and a bit of sass. He informs the reader of the facts of the case while also telling a story. Despite not being around for most of the tale, you really get a feeling of who Lucie Blackman was and how the loss of this young girl impacted not only her family but her town and her country. 

This book was compelling and hard to put down. I completely recommend it.

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