Six Four is more of an interesting look into Japanese culture than a gripping thriller.

Reading a well-conceived mystery that takes place in another culture can make a great book into a sensation. When I started reading Six Four, by Hideo Yokoyoma, I was reminded of some of those great books, Gorky Park set in the Soviet Union, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which informed me about Swedish white supremacists, or even Silence of the Lambs which taught this American a lot about the police culture in the United States.

Yokoyama understands exactly what the police in Japan do— well, at least he seems to. I have no idea what they actually do, so I can’t really confirm that this culture is all correct. I can say that it is fully realized illustration of Japanese police culture which may or may not be accurate, but is very interesting.

Synopsis

Six Four, first and foremost, concerns a 14-year-old kidnapping with a botched police investigation. The head of media relations, Yoshinobu Mikami, is given a series of strange orders. Once a detective, he begins to follow the trail through the police force, prostrating himself when necessary, sometimes acting aggressively, often lying. Near the beginning of the book, Mikami goes to see the kidnapped girl’s father and has to stop to buy some rice crackers, a touch that you would not see in an American mystery. The difference in cultures is fascinating. At the point in time that this book was written, Japan had a fifteen-year statue of limitations on murder! Murder!

Like I said, that’s how I felt when I started.

I hadn’t read Six Four entirely and I started off rapturously listing the exciting parts of the narrative, the rich mystery, the interesting Japanese office politics, the desire to do the right thing in a police force with strict rules, i.e., where do you start following orders and when do you go off reservation in pursuit of the truth.

Sadly, I got to, say, about page 300, and I realized I was reading a story about a police detective who was finding out that being a press secretary was important. Seriously, there are 350 pages of deciding that anonymous reporting— giving the press the facts of a case but leaving out the names— causes trouble. Sure, it’s an interesting point, but not 300-pages interesting.

I thought it was going to be a mystery! It’s a 600-page book about a press secretary coming into his own. It’s not awful; I finished it. But the “six four” refers to a kidnapping and that’s what I wanted to read about.

Sure, Six Four is interesting. But it’s a little too long to just be interesting.

If you like Japan, or you’re thinking about visiting Japan, this might be a good book to read. But if you haven’t read Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, maybe read those books instead.

Right off the bat, my favorite thing is that nobody is ever supposed to talk to the big boss, who doesn’t really seem to do anything. I guess that’s true in America too, but I had never thought of it like that. There’s a part where the main character bursts into his boss’s boss’s office and the guy just can’t believe it

Six Four is a book of manners, like the work of Jane Austen. You may not know a lot about Victorian England, but certainly a quick read of Pride and Prejudice can give you a window into how things were. Likewise, Six Four shows Japanese culture in action and shows a lot about what it means to be a good person in Japan, and it’s not necessarily the same thing as in America. For instance, your boss is sacrosanct in Japan. You don’t complain to them, you solve problems so the boss never has to hear of them.

And there’s a lot about emerging feminism in Japan.

There are moments when Mikami won’t let his female subordinate, Mikumo (lots of similar names in this book!) do the same jobs as his male employees because it would be banking on her being young and beautiful. He is trying to be feminist by not exploiting her! But she just wants to get on her with her work and tries to communicate that to Mikami without offending him, until she just lets loose after a few drinks.

So yes, there’s lot of interesting stuff in this book. But it’s too long! There’s like a 400-page section where you learn absolutely nothing new about the kidnapping. If you’re already interested in Japanese culture, give it a read. But otherwise, I’d suggest giving it a pass.