People Who Eat Darkness is the true story of British woman Lucie Blackman, who was reported missing back in July 2000 from the infamous nightclub district of Roppongi in Minato, Tokyo. A former British Airways flight attendant, Lucie was 21 years old and had been working as a hostess at Casablanca, a nightclub where many foreign girls were employed to entertain male patrons. The case of her disappearance would go unsolved for many months, until February 2001 when her dismembered body was found in a seaside cave in the popular tourist town of Miura in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Richard Lloyd Parry has worked and lived in Tokyo since 1995, where he serves as the Asia Editor for The Times. His story is told in six parts, covering Lucie’s life in England, her arrival and adjustment to the foreign world of Tokyo, her disappearance, the life of suspect Joji Obara, his trial and the events following the verdict.
The book explores the seedy underworld of Japan’s sex industry, shining a light for unknowing Western audiences on the scarcely known job of working as a hostess. The job is described in the book to be a kind of waitressing, where women are paid to entertain male clients through conversation and flattery, serving drinks and other requests, such as taking part in karaoke. As Parry recounts Lucie’s younger sister Sophie explaining to journalists, ‘The only difference between being a British Airways hostess and being at Casablanca was the altitude.’
As the investigation unfolds and a suspect is named, Parry gives his readers the chance to understand the circumstances from which Joji Obara, the man suspected for committing the gruesome crime, was born. He details Obara’s Korean ethnicity and the struggle ethnic Koreans – known as zainichi – endured under Japan’s imperial power. While Parry’s inclusion of this information and of Obara’s social awkwardness growing up does nothing to sway the reader into justifying his sickening actions, it no less attempts to humanise him. By allowing readers to see both sides of the story, it further heightens the incredulity of the facts surrounding the case.
Parry’s narration style allows his work to read like an engrossing work of fiction, offering fascinating insight on the darker side of Japan with the ends of each chapter dripping in suspense, keeping readers questioning. There are also excerpts from Lucie’s personal diary included, which some may find a little jarring knowing they are reading the once private thoughts of a dead girl. Nonetheless, readers learn more about who this young woman was and just how much we each may have in common with her: this could have been any one of us.
The story of Lucie Blackman is one that would resonate with many young people today, those looking for an opportunity to earn big and pay off debts and to experience the thrill of life in a foreign city. With no confession nor official cause of death recorded to this day, the mystery surrounding her brutal end makes for a truly compelling read. Parry’s words are sure to linger long after the last page is turned.
Image care of Teuila Krause