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
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 454 pp., $16
The appeal of crime fiction, apart from the suspense, the gore, and often the sex, is the promise of effortless immersion in a different culture and time. The late-19th-century example is Arthur Conan Doyle's somewhat fanciful evocation of Mormon Utah in A Study in Scarlet. My favorite 20th-century example is George V. Higgins's depiction of small-time Boston hoodlums in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. More recently we have the Shanghai of Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen books, the Tokyo of Seicho Matsumoto's Inspector Imanishi, the Russia of Martin Cruz Smith, the Berlin of Philip Kerr, and the Scandinavia of all too many renderings.
The appeal of nonfiction about crime, apart from the suspense, the gore, and often the sex, is the opportunity to explore the social setting and individual pathology that gave rise to an offense. For nearly half a century, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood has been the standard, indispensible work People Who Eat Darkness, by the British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry, is an outstanding new example.
The book describes a murder case that commanded attention in Japan and England through much of the 2000s, and that Parry covered while stationed in Tokyo for The Times (London). From the start, the reader knows the bad news: on a Saturday evening in July 2000, a young English woman named Lucie Blackman disappeared from the Roppongi foreigner-nightlife district of Tokyo, where she was working as a hostess. Seven months later, after many tearful televised pleas for her return by her parents, siblings, and friends, the dismembered and partially mummified pieces of her body were found in a seaside cave near the resort town of Zushi. She had been dead since the night of her abduction.
Nearly seven years after that, an unforgettably ghoulish character named Joji Obara was convicted of murdering an Australian woman and raping eight other Japanese and foreign women, after having knocked them out with chloroform or spiked drinks, and then videotaping them as he molested and in some instances tortured them. The police suspected that he might have had well over a hundred victims, just as they were sure (as the reader will be) that he had also killed Blackman. Among other hideous details, neighbors had heard a commotion likely caused when Obara...