Thursday, November 3, 2022

Review: People Who Eat Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Parry

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. 2012. Farrar Straus and Giroux.

Lucie Blackman was a young Englishwoman in her early 20s when she and a friend decided to travel and work in Japan to have fun and earn some money. They each took a job in a "hostess club," where young women chatted up and entertained (mostly) Japanese men and thereby encouraged them to buy expensive drinks. Part of their job also involved going on dates (dōhan) with the club's customers, to encourage further visits and patronage of the bar. Then one day Lucie disappeared. 

When Lucie's story starts, it's so ordinary. Parry describes her normal family, predictable path through school and early career, regular friends and boyfriends. Going abroad should have been just another fun chapter in her life- not something everyone does, but not that unusual. I went to Ireland for a summer after college, not to pay off debts but just to travel, have an adventure, get away from home and be independent for the first time. Lucie had traveled as an airline hostess but this was her first time living in another country and everything should have been fairly straightforward. And it was, until she crossed paths with a predator.

When Lucie disappeared, her family sprang into action to find her. What follows is frustrating and drawn out, made more complicated by a slow-lurching Japanese justice system along with other factors. Parry describes the action in page-turning terms and he brings everyone to life on the page, from Lucie to her father to the alleged killer. I really wanted to see how this story would turn out even when it felt like disappointment was looming.

As true crime goes it's gripping and intense and filled with detail about the Japanese police, court system and hostess bar scene. I felt like I learned a lot. There's a lot of weird stuff that happens, but Parry's writing is immersive and will keep you reading well into the night. I've had this book on my radar for a long time and enjoyed it, insofar as you can enjoy a story like this.

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