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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 Andrew Gross (2011)
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 (2012)
by Richard Lloyd Parry
Publication Date: May 22nd, 2012 (first published December 28th, 2010)
Publisher: FSG Originals
Edition Read: Paperback

Buy a copy via Amazon.

Lucie Blackman—tall, blond, twenty-one years old—stepped out into the vastness of Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and disappeared forever. The following winter, her dismembered remains were found buried in a seaside cave.Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, covered Lucie’s disappearance and followed the massive search for her, the long investigation, and the even longer trial. Over ten years, he earned the trust of her family and friends, won unique access to the Japanese detectives and Japan’s convoluted legal system, and delved deep into the mind of the man accused of the crime, Joji Obara, described by the judge as “unprecedented and extremely evil.The People Who Eat Darkness is one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Best Books of 2012Drawing on two real-life experiences from his own past, Gross has crafted a richly personal, yet utterly terrifying tale of two brothers, one successful, one wayward, trying to bridge the gap of what tore them apart.

My Thoughts:
After I finished the prologue, I already had chills going down my spine. It was not a good idea to start this in bed/before going to sleep, since there was this “a ghost is sitting on my bed smoking a cigar” scene. I’ve been reading a number of dark books lately, I didn’t know if I could get through another and still have a good night’s sleep (being the scaredy cat that I am.) I debated immediately returning the book to the library, but ultimately decided to stick it out. I had a plan where I would read at least fifty pages a day of People Who Eat Darkness, while I also read other happier books to “neutralize” the horror. So much for that plan, because I ate (pun intended) this book up in two days.

Before reading this book, I already knew about hosting in Roppongi, courtesy of a few Japanese dramas I’ve watched that feature hosting–albeit a romanticized version. There are also similar occupations in Hong Kong (my birthplace,) where girls would drink with customers in a bar/karaoke–though I don’t think it’s nearly as lucrative of a business as the one in Japan. Although the idea of hosting isn’t surprising to me, I was impressed with Parry’s description of Japan which was always vivid.

Suspense (I See What You Did There):
I wasn’t sure how Parry would be able to expand a news article into 430 pages without boring me, but he did. Because of the suspenseful writing. Parry has a way of obliquely referring to something, but NOT TELL YOU THE ANSWERS. After the big criminal reveal, I was expecting to delve into his eccentric lifestyle, or his motivations, but instead I had pages upon pages of stuff about his family. It wasn’t boring, but I kept thinking “HURRY UP! STOP BEATING AROUND THE BUSH, GIVE ME THE JUICY DETAILS.” I was restless as Parry goes through the family roster. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found out there wasn’t much information of Obara’s youngest brother so I was spared at least a page or two. Hallelujah!
The same thing happened with Lucie’s family. A chunk of the book was dedicated to the drama between Tim and Jane, Lucie’s divorced parents. *yawn*

Pictures, My Greatest Fear:
I hated the pictures in this book. Not that I think Lucie wasn’t pretty, but because I already knew the fate of Lucie that I kept thinking of her as “that dead girl who gets cut up and dumped in a cave.” Seeing her picture inevitably brought up images of a decayed, cut up cadaver. It didn’t help that I took Biology last semester and the section on body farms scarred me for life. Pictures of Obara didn’t bring up images of decaying bodies, but I kept thinking “oh, this guy looks friendly! He doesn’t look like the type I would pepper-spray on the street at all.” His aversion to pictures made him such an interesting person (it also made me wonder if he was prepping for his a life of crime all his life.) His picture drawn on the cover? I thought it was just a mean-looking lady until I read the book. It’s the hair. I guess you really can’t tell bad from facial features, although I keep thinking I can.

The last two at the end of the book gave me a minor heart attack. Don’t worry, it wasn’t gruesome. It was just a picture of Lucie and one of Joji Obara on the next page. I told you I was a scaredy cat.

MY REACTION during those last three pages:
Whew, I’m done with the book!
Okay, I think I recovered. *flips page*

I wasn’t expecting two pictures back-to-back. So whoever decided on the order of pictures, I hate you.

Japan, Safest Country?
Parry makes it a point that despite these horrific crimes, Japan is still a safe place. And therefore, there’s a lack of experience from detectives in solving crimes. However, I wonder if the reason for low crime rates has to do with police not taking reports seriously (this guy raped at least two hundred of women before he was caught, what the heck? Aside from a name change, he wasn’t even being that sneaky.) Or is it just the people who have reservations about reporting crimes (I know there’s the whole I-can’t-say-anything-since-I’m-working-here-illegally but he also raped Japanese women too)? In an effort to maintain their reputation and the illusion of a safe city, do they purposely dismiss people calling for help? Turns out the police weren’t inadequate at all once they had the ball rolling.

But I sure don’t want to be involved in any crime activity in Japan. Who knows when something will actually be done? On the other hand, it’s a paradise for criminals. It was decades before Joji Obara was caught. He wasn’t even particularly a stealthy criminal, kept a mountain of incriminating evidence around, had a notebook on how much chloroform to administer like he was doing a science experiment, should’ve probably also destroyed his computer too. Reading how the mystery was unraveled made me think, “Damn it’s really hard to bury a body” since there were witnesses EVERYWHERE (just that they didn’t know the significance of what they saw.)

Parry did a wonderful job leaving the topic objective. It’s too easy to say that Joji Obara was a creep and a evil man. But like Tim, Lucie’s father, I felt for Obara despite his horrendous crime. He was rich, but he had no friends (if Parry’s guesses are correct,) his brother hasn’t seen him in a decade, and seems to be in some serious denial, to the point he’s crafted some ridiculous fantasy for himself. The laughable, clumsy way he tries to cover up this tracks made me think he was not only panicked, but also felt guilty. Why would he go through the trouble of making a “oh, she joined a cult!” phone call to Lucie’s friend, Louise? He would later imitate Lucie (albeit very poorly) and write a “Don’t look for me” letter” that would fool nobody. In retrospect, Louise should’ve probably lured the guy out with a fake address (he was probably trying to bribe her with money) and then have the police arrest him. I think I watch too much TV.

But Still, We Don’t REALLY Know What Happened:
Courtesy of Obara’s denial, what caused Lucie’s death is still a mystery in the end. It is suspected to be a sleeping drug/chloroform overdose, but what kind is still unknown. How in the world did he get his hands on so much of it? Knowing she died of drug overdose or chloroform is also somewhat comforting, knowing that she died in her sleep and not brutally tortured to death. It is frustrating that Obara will probably be carrying these secrets with him to his grave.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’m not surprised it appeared on many best of the year lists. I was surprised, however, at how fast I was about to get through it. Though I admit to speed reading after the mystery was unraveled and the suspense was drained. I also admit to be utterly terrified of this book. After finishing it, I returned it back to the library along with a few other horror reads (or anything that involved dead people) I had planned for the month. I don’t think I can stomach any more dark reads for the month. I need a happy book now! Reading this book also made me want to keep a diary so that if I ever disappear, people will know what’s up–hopefully.

On the other hand, it doesn’t show in the cover picture, but the physical book looks stunning. The book cover almost looks like it’s been printed on foil due to it’s high-reflectiveness. I kept holding it against the light. SHINY!

Rating: B+