True crime is a genre that can be extraordinarily well done (think In Cold Blood, Helter Skelter, The Stranger Beside Me) or sleazy (too numerous to mention.) So much depends on the skill of the author and the information that can be sussed out about the crime, the victim, and the other people involved in the crime and its solution.
Richard Lloyd Parry is skilled beyond the ordinary and having lived in Japan for many years has a command of the language that makes it possible for him to interview or just chat with people who have something to contribute to the engrossing story of the kidnapping and murder of Lucie Blackman told in People Who Eat Darkness. Parry spent 10 years researching this book. He has written about a crime that reflects the life of non-Japanese youth who live and work in the Tokyo district called Roppongi.
The year is 2000 and Lucie and her friend Louise are hostesses at a club, Casablanca, that specializes in employing European hostesses, especially women like Lucie, who are tall, slender, blonde, and outgoing. The hostesses are required to keep their customers entertained for more than an hour, because it is only if they stay that long that the club makes money.
Parry takes his time setting the scene and explaining the world of Rappongi hostesses. They are not prostitutes. Their work is in the tradition of the geishas, women who entertain men, pour their drinks, light their cigarettes, make them laugh, help them practice their English. Lucie apparently liked this work but there are suggestions in her letters to friends and family that she has become tired of staying up so late at night and drinking so much.
Meanwhile, she has a date with a handsome, youngish man whom she met at night in Casablanca and whom she has agreed to meet during the day. He is wealthy and has offered to give her a cell phone and talks of high end champagne. She tells Louise about her plans to meet him. She's excited. But she has to work that night. "I'll be back by 8 PM."
She never returns. Louise, recognizing that Lucie is the sort of person who is always where she says she will be exactly on time, goes immediately to the district police. They are polite, listen to her story, and suggest that it is early to begin looking for an adult who is a few hours late. But Louise knows there is something seriously wrong.
Parry tells us about the complex world of the "water trade" in Japan and he introduces us to Lucie's family and friends in England. Her family were unusually open and frank about their private life (there is a particularly bitter divorce involved) and we learn about Lucie and her life in great detail, both the good and bad. She is portrayed -- as I'm sure she was -- as a delightful woman who was struggling to find her place in the world.
The Japanese police are criminally culpable in this and other cases of young women who have been kidnapped and raped and have disappeared from the clubs of Rappongi. A few frank police detectives talked with Parry and he was able to piece together the picture of uninvestigated crimes over the years before Lucie was taken.
I had not heard of this book, published in 2011, until very recently. I don't recall where I discovered it. (If yours was the blog in which I read about please tell me. I am grateful to you.) It has gone immediately onto my top 10 True Crime list.