What I’ve Read: 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
Brandon says he sometimes gets concerned by the fact that one of my not-so-hidden guilty pleasures is watching true crime TV and reading various true crime nonfiction. “Are you planning something?” is something he’s asked me more than once. Anyway, because I’ve read a lot of the more well-known true crime books, I feel confident saying that this is one of the best—and also one of the scariest—that I’ve read in a long time.
I had just finished Gone Girl and was looking for something nonfiction (I like to alternate—fiction, nonfiction and so on) and this one looked promising.
Here’s the publisher’s synopsis:
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.”
One of the potential pitfalls of true crime nonfiction is in making the “other” content in the book—a description of the victim’s life before they died, an account of the sometimes mundane police work, a short bio of the killer’s life growing up—as interesting as the crime itself. Some writers go too far, providing over-dramatized background in an unorganized way in order to boost the number of pages in the book. Others don’t go far enough and you don’t establish any sort of context of who the people are (or were), which doesn’t feel at all fair to the victims. (They were, after all, much more than the crime that ended their life.) One of my most hated ploys is the writer who alternates chapters as a device to keep readers engaged: one bio chapter, one crime chapter and so on and so forth. It feels cheap, like how TV shows end cliffhangers right before a commercial, and it reduces important details about someone’s life to nothing but filler.
In this case, Parry did everything right. The biographical portions of the book, of which there are many, are honest, forthright and meaningful. Instead of over-dramatizing events to boost suspense, he simply relays facts in a professional, intelligent way that made me confident of his research. I attribute this mostly to his training in journalism that he didn’t rely on the cheap ploys that true crime nonfiction so often does.
Another aspect of the book that I find really well-done was Parry’s ability to keep the enormous cast of characters easily recognizable by the reader. There’s nothing more frustrating than to have to look back in a book to determine who is being talked about, and Parry did a great job of eliminating this type of confusion.
One of the best things about this book is how well Parry translates Lucie to the reader. You feel like you know her well by the end—her desires, her personality, the things she wanted in her life. Unfortunately, that makes it all the more heart-breaking when you read the details of what happened to her at the hand of a truly demented individual.
The scariest thing about this book is how vulnerable women can be in the presence of a unnaturally manipulative and twisted mind. Joji Obara, Lucie’s alleged murderer, drugged and raped literally hundreds of women before doing the same—and then killing—Lucie. It’s an unimaginable legacy of crime, and one that maybe could have been thwarted much sooner had it not been for the overly cautious and bureaucratic Japanese police force. The details of the Japanese justice system near the end of the book are fascinating and eye-opening. I always assumed Japan had severe punishments for criminals, and although that is usually the case, their general incompetence in actually compiling the evidence necessary to charge and convict a criminal is pointed out time and time again in this book.
In conclusion, this book was suspenseful and frightening without resorting to any cheap tricks, and the huge amount of research and material surrounding the case was impeccably laid out. If you’ve never read true crime nonfiction before, this is a great place to start.
Have you read this book? What did you think?