The fate of Lucie Blackman is so intense, deep and unimaginable that perhaps even a book written about it does little justice to it. In 2000, a 21-year old tall, blonde, British woman decided to go to Japan, one of the world’s most expensive and populous countries, with her best friend Louise Philips in search of economic and job security and found herself working as a “hostess” in a night club in Roppongi district. Months after her arrival in a country so different from her own in culture, cuisine and colour, Lucie disappears under mysterious circumstances. Police investigations follow, under strict media and international pressure, until the killer is finally nabbed only to be convicted of every murder except that of Miss Blackman. There is no doubt about Parry’s rich and riveting story-telling technique that keeps you glued throughout the narrative. But it would be unfair to not acknowledge the Blackmans’ awful fate and trial that helped him in some ways by providing him with a story and plot replete with mystery, intrigue, darkness and horror.
The story of Lucie Blackman isn’t unusual. It is her awful fate that stands out. There is always the lingering feeling of what would have happened had she not fallen into debt, gone to Tokyo, accompanied Joji Obara, the serial killer and rapist, on that fateful day. And that is what makes the story poignant to the core. The complexities attached with the Lucie’s job as a “hostess”, particularly in the context of Japanese society and culture is well-explained by the author. Lucie’s job mainly involved talking to the client and be simultaneously flirtatious with them, unlike what a traditional bar girl or dancer is expected to do. Pressured to get dohans—dinner with the client—Lucie was simply doing her job when she accompanied a mysterious man to his apartment at Zushi Marina, the man who would later be responsible for her rape, death and slaughter.
The pace of the police investigations that follows is almost as bizarre as Lucie’s fate. Undeterred by the amount of media coverage that the case garnered both in Japan and Britain, so much so that Tony Blair pressured the then Japan Prime Minister to look into the speediness of the case, the police did its work and did it well in its own slow fashion. Parry is openly critical of the Japanese police, not the people who run the system but the system itself that is so nonchalantly caught in a web of lethargy, complacency and complete indifference. Ironically, as Parry points out, Japan has one of the world’s least crime rates; a possible explanation for the police’s lackadaisical attitude, as he observes, is sheer lack of practice. The frustration of a missing case taking so long to uncover is conveyed well, inviting the readers to feel the same.
Narrating every minute detail about Lucie’s early life to her adolescence, Parry tries hard to sketch a picture of a woman who met such ill-fate. The story is narrated like a tale, except that the reader already knows what happened and what is possibly going to happen assuming that he/she was following the case and media’s coverage of it. Ample space is given to her childhood, her years in Britain and in Tokyo, her mysterious disappearance, the police investigation and the courtroom drama that followed. Parry has been successful in generating a feeling of extreme annoyance and impatience while one reads through the novel, one of the many feelings the Blackmans and Ridgways might have felt when they themselves underwent the trauma. The author ensures that the reader doesn’t make any assumption and that is visible in the enormous amount of research, reading, observation and notes-taking that went in the making of this book.
As a journalist, perhaps Parry is expected to have reasonably good observational skills. However, the vividness of his style that describes the view of Tokyo, the night life on the streets of Roppongi and the colourful and extravagant bars and clubs adds a touch of novel-writing in his style. However, Parry has been careful enough not to write in a dramatic or melodramatic manner else the story slip into the oblivions of fiction. Right from the beginning till the end, the story remains true to the genre it claims it belongs to—true crime. And truth, as is narrated and absorbed, is stranger than fiction.
The author has made a commendable effort to understand the psyche, if one may use the term, of Lucie Blackman’s killer, Joji Obara, the man who refused to confess and lived a life sans friends and companions. Abstaining from associating the term ‘psychopath’ with the serial killer and rapist, the author has described Obara’s history of sexual crimes in the most graphic manner. Belonging to the community of Zainichi, ethnic Koreans of Japan, and perhaps a victim of the historical strife between the two nations, an attempt to understand Obara’s life and the way he lead it is almost as impossible and unfathomable as understanding why he committed such crimes.
It would be unfair to not mention Parry’s biasness, if any. Lucie’s father, Tim Blackman, was and has been collectively accused by friends, family and the media itself for being the “unconventional father”, for being so media-savvy in moments of private grief and withdrawal and for accepting money from Obara, to bury the case. Parry raises a significant point at Tim’s critics who label him as “immoral”, stating that one who hasn’t been through the kind of trauma that Tim and the Blackmans went through, will never know how to react and behave in such a situation. While there is enough credit in this, Parry falls short of any justification or explanation for Jane’s behaviour, Lucie’s mother accused of being possessive, overprotective and violently reactive of her daughter’s disappearance and death. Instead, he gives us quotes from Sophie, Lucie’s sister, who, from the very beginning as it has been stated, never got along with her mother.
Early on in the story, Sophie, a product of a marriage that went horribly wrong, makes a profound statement: “A divorce makes you question everything.” This sets the tone of the story and what is to follow; how much the bitter marriage of the parents is going to affect the trial that the broken Blackman family is going to undergo themselves. The dismemberment of Lucie’s body, as revealed later, ironically and poignantly, becomes a manifestation of the dismemberment of the family that forces desperately to be with each other with the knowledge that that is never going to happen. Lucie Blackman’s fate is disturbingly compelling. And so is Parry’s writing.
Disclaimer: Rough draft. Badly needs editing. Would appreciate comments.