"People are afraid of stories like Lucie's, stories about meaningless, brutal, premature death, but most of them cannot own up to their fear. So they take comfort in the certainty of moral judgements, which they brandish like burning branches waved in the night to keep off the wolves."
Farrar, Straus and Giroux is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers. A chunk of my favorite reads from last year, notably The Submission and The Marriage Plot, were published by FSG. When I signed up for their Work In Progress newsletter, they promised me a review copy of People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman. (Me and the other first 500 people to sign up.) It was my first true crime book I've read and man, was it good. I knew little going into this one and I believe, like most mysteries, that is the best way to go into it, as it heightened my reading experience. I had a hard time putting this one down and I read the first half of the novel in 24 hours. People Who Eat Darkness follows the Lucie Blackman case in which a 21-year-old, thin, blond girl from England moves to Tokyo with a friend, in hopes of to mainge big money, and disappears. The details surround her disappearance suggested she was abducted, but there weren't many details from the start aside from a strange phone call and a mystery man. The author of the book, Richard Llyod Parry, was quite close to this case for its entirety. I didn't feel like there were any holes or questions left unanswered. In fact there were times when I felt there was almost too much detail given, but those instances were few. For over ten years Richard Lloyd Parry followed the case while he earned the trust of Lucie's family and gained countless interviews from those who knew her best.
Lucie was a hostess in Toyko, entertaining men in night clubs for a living. But this role should not be confused with prostitution. A hostess was never expected to preform intercourse with their clients, but rather play toward their fantasies psychologically. One hostess explains:
We were taught three things when we started. How to light our client's cigarettes, how to pour his drinks, and not to put our elbows on the table... Those rules aside, your job was to to fulfill his fantasy. If he wanted you loud, you were loud. If he wanted you intelligent, you were intelligent. If he wanted you horny, you were horny. Sordid? Yes. Degrading? Yes. But one thing it wasn't was the White Salve Trade. The one thing the hostess bars are not about is sex.
It turns out, this is much more than a true crime book. It's also a lens for what happens behind closed doors in eastern culture, like an anthropological look at the darker, hidden aspects of this culture and their obsession with ritual and role play. For instance the practice of the "water trade" and the long-time tradition of women as a form of entertainment.
One of the reasons I found this book so interseting is because I learned a lot about the east and how it differs from the west in terms of government, law, and media. Of the handful of times I've traveled abroad, I have never gone further east than Rome, so much of this was new to me. I also felt that I could identify with some of the girls described who traveled to Japan, who had hopes of a more exotic and exciting life. What girl hasn't dreamed of moving to a place that holds such promises? Sadly, it all went down hill pretty quickly for Lucie but just as her family and friends didn't know what happened to her right away, neither does the reader. The crime is unfolded chronologically which really makes for a compelling and fast-paced read. Despite the one night of nightmares I had while reading this book, (yeah, it has happened before) I couldn't be happier this book found its way into my hands. The horrific crimes inflicted on Lucie Blackman were nothing short of pure evil, and this book will ensure her story isn't forgotten anytime soon.
Chris Cleave called this book "In Cold Blood for our times." Needless to say, I'm really excited to pick that one up, disturbing as it may be.
People Who Eat Darkness will be published May 7th.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012