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Book Nook - 17-10-2016

Monday, October 17, 2016
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com.

Mystery of The Missing Girls
Six Four is Japanese author Hideo Yokoyama’s first book to be translated into English (by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies), and went on to become a bestseller.  The book is a dense and serious police procedural that plays out more in the protagonist’s mind, as he juggles multiple problems.

Yoshinobu Mikami and his wife are in anguish over their missing daughter; they have to repeatedly go over the trauma of looking at corpses of young women to check it’s their Ayumi. Mikami was pulled out of criminal investigation and put into media relations, a post where he is uncomfortable and dreams of getting back to being a real cop.

The case that runs through the book is an old kidnap-murder of a seven-year-old girl, Shoko Amamaya.  Her father had paid the ransom, still the child was found dead. The unsolved case that fascinated the country,  is a blot on the police department, and a large contingent of detectives continues to work on trying to trace the killer, in the case codenamed Six Four.

As press director, Mikami has to deal with a rowdy bunch of reporters, and his first battle with them involves withholding the name of a female driver in an accident case. The reporters demand the names of the woman and the victim, which Mikami cannot reveal due to instructions given by his superiors. It creates an ugly scene between the cops and the press, and they threaten to boycott the visit by the police commissioner from Tokyo. He is visiting on the anniversary of Shoko’s death and hopes to pay his respects at the Amamaya residence. The press boycott would mean major embarrassment for Mikami’s department.

Meanwhile, the still-grieving father politely turns down the commissioner’s visit too, which puts the harried Mikami into more trouble. In trying to find out why Amamaya turned against the cops, Mikami stumbles upon a “Koda Memo” that hints at a blunder in the Shoko case, followed by a cover-up endorsed by higher-ups in the police force.

As Mikami gradually uncovers the conspiracy, the book moves at a languid pace, taking in the minutiae of how the cops work, as well as the internal politics and rivalry between departments. Yokoyama lays bare corruption in the force along with that deep sense of honour entrenched in the Japanese psyche.  The prose is simple with no embellishment; there are too many characters and strands of the story, that somehow get connected, like an immense jigsaw puzzle.

Apart from the hunt for Shoko, and later, the race against time to catch a killer, there is very little action in Six Four. It would take a lot of patience to get through Mikami’s complex investigation, but it always remains gripping and the twist at the end is a zinger.

Yokoyama used to be an investigative reporter with a Tokyo newspaper before turning to fiction, so in this novel he gets the machinations going on between the ‘Press Club’ and the police just right. It’s a thick, sprawling, richly detailed novel, the success of which will undoubtedly result in more of his books being translated.

Six Four
By Hideo Yokoyama
Translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 600


Excerpt of Six Four
Snowflakes danced through the evening light. The man’s legs were stiff as he stepped from the taxi. A forensics official in a police-issue overcoat was waiting outside the entrance to the station. He ushered the man inside. They passed a work area for duty officers and continued along a gloomy corridor before taking a side door out to the officers’ parking area.

The mortuary stood by itself at the far end of the grounds, a windowless structure with a tin roof. The low rumbling of the extractor fan told him there was a body inside. The official unlocked the door and stepped back. He gave the man a deferential look, indicating he would wait outside.

I forgot to pray.

Yoshinobu Mikami pushed open the door. The hinges groaned. His eyes and nose registered Cresol. He could feel the tips of Minako’s fingers digging through the fabric of his coat, into his elbow. Light glared down from the ceiling. The waist-high examination table was covered in blue vinyl sheeting; above it, a human shape was visible under a white sheet. Mikami recoiled at the indeterminate size, too small for an adult but clearly not a child.

Ayumi . . .

He swallowed the word, afraid that voicing his daughter’s name might make the body hers.

He began to peel back the white cloth.

Hair. Forehead. Closed eyes. Nose, lips . . . chin.

The pale face of a dead girl came into view. In the same moment the frozen air began to circulate again; Minako’s forehead pushed against his shoulder. The pressure receded from the fingers at his elbow.      Mikami was staring at the ceiling, breathing out from deep in his gut. There was no need to inspect the body further. The journey from Prefecture D – by bullet train then taxi – had taken four hours, but the process of identifying the corpse had been over in seconds. A young girl; drowned, suicide. They had wasted no time after receiving the call. The girl, they were told, had been found in a lake a little after midday.

Her chestnut hair was still damp. She looked fifteen or sixteen, perhaps a little older. She hadn’t been in the water for long. There were no signs of bloating, and the slender outline running from her forehead to her cheeks was, along with her childlike lips, unbroken, preserved as though she were still alive.

It seemed a bitter irony. The girl’s delicate features were, he supposed, the kind Ayumi had always longed for. Even now, three months later, Mikami was still unable to think back on what had happened with a cool head.

There had been a noise from Ayumi’s room upstairs. A frenzied sound, like somebody trying to kick through the floor. Her mirror was in pieces. She’d been sitting with the lights off in the corner of her room. Punching, scratching her face, trying to tear it apart: I hate this face. I want to die.

Mikami faced the dead girl and pressed his hands together. She would have parents, too. They would have to come to this place, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, and face up to the awful reality.

‘Let’s get out of here.’

His voice was hoarse. Something dry was caught in his throat. Minako seemed vacant; she made no attempt to nod. Her swollen pupils were like glass beads, empty of thought or emotion. This wasn’t their first time – in the last three months they had already identified two bodies of Ayumi’s age.

Outside, the snow had turned to sleet. Three figures stood breathing chalky clouds in the dark of the parking area.

‘A great relief.’

The pale, clearly good-natured station captain proffered his card with a hesitant smile. He was in full uniform, even though it was outside working hours. The same was true of the director, and of the section chief of Criminal Investigations flanking his sides. Mikami recognized it as a sign of respect, in case he’d identified the girl as his daughter.

He gave them a low bow. ‘Thank you for getting in touch so quickly.’

‘Not at all.’ We’re all police. Skipping any further formalities, the captain turned to gesture at the building and said, ‘Come in, you should warm up a little.’

There was a nudge in the back of Mikami’s coat. He turned and caught Minako’s imploring gaze. She wanted to leave as soon as possible. He felt the same way.

‘That’s very kind, but we should get going. We have a train to catch.’

‘No, no, you should stay. We’ve arranged a hotel.’

‘We appreciate your consideration, but we really do need to go. I have to worktomorrow.’

When he said this, the captain’s gaze dropped to the card in his hands.

Superintendent Yoshinobu Mikami. Press Director. Inspector, Administrative Affairs Department, Personnel Division. Prefecture D Police Headquarters.

He sighed as he looked back up.

‘It must be tough, having to deal with the press.’

‘It can be,’ Mikami said evasively. He could picture the mutinous faces of the reporters he’d left back in Media Relations. They had been in the middle of a heated argument over the format of press releases when the call had come in to notify him of the drowned girl. He had got to his feet and walked out without a word, earning the wrath of the reporters, who were unaware of his family situation: We’re not finished here. Are you running away, Mikami?

‘Have you been in Media Relations long?’ The captain looked sympathetic. In district stations, relations with the press were handled by the station’s vice-captain or vice-director; in smaller, regional stations, it was the captain himself who stood in the firing line.

‘Just since the spring. Although I had a brief stint there a long time ago.’

‘Have you always worked in Administrative Affairs?’

‘No. I spent a long time as a detective in Second Division.’

Even now, this engendered a certain amount of pride.

The captain nodded uncertainly. It was unlikely, even in the regional headquarters, that he had seen any examples of detectives switching into the role of press director.


ALSO RECEIVED
The story of a woman’s journey to self-realisation would find takers among female readers, in particular those looking for a quick read and some inspiration, plus a peek into what makes Delhi tick. According to the synopsis provided: “Chronicling a middle class girl s tumultuous journey over five decades The Diary of a Lutyens Princess is satirical yet inspirational heartbreaking yet heart- warming.

Starry-eyed young Akshraa defies her parents to marry the man she loves but soon realizes that youthful passion does not always translate into everlasting togetherness. Carving a professional niche for herself in her early thirties she becomes one of a rare and successful breed of intrapreneurs . Her life takes another turn when she falls for and ties the knot with Suryaprakash the scion of one of the first families of business India a package that comes riddled with its own set of sorrows. But Akshraa retains her vivacity and spiritedness penning witty observations on the superficially perfect lives of the elite beautiful people in exotic locales yet in a state of search and sufferance undergoing the same travails as any one of us. While doing so she discovers her own path to salvation as she bravely resets the rules of femininity.”

The Diary of a Lutyens’ Princess
By Bindu Dalmia
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 240

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