book review: People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

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Searing, meticulously researched and absolutely heartrending, this is a tale of horror touching innocent lives and changing them irrevocably. It’s a “true crime” book that also explores the human condition – the three sides of the coin – evil, good, and the grey areas in between. It’s also an intelligent examination of a foreign and often maddening culture that contributed to the rape and murder of two girls (and how ever many countless more).

I didn’t know about Lucie Blackman before I read this book. As Richard Lloyd Parry astutely points out though, I did know the case of “the girl in the bathtub” – Lindsay Hawker, a young British woman who was strangled to death by her killer to keep her “from screaming for help while he raped her.” (I can’t think of anything more devastating than what I just typed, to be quite honest.) For most Westerners, the two cases seem virtually indistinguishable, but of course they are very, very different.

Lucie Blackman was a complicated woman and much of what she thought and felt – from her depressive episodes to her worries about failure, her body, her debts – were so familiar to me that I immediately felt so much empathy with her. After she traveled to Japan with a close friend to become a “hostess” (serving drinks to wealthy Japanese ‘salarymen’ in the largely multicultural area of Roppongi), Lucie disappeared while on a ‘dohan’ (an outside date with a man she’d met at work). Hostesses were required to have a certain amount of dohans each month, or face being fired. Lucie was never quite able to meet her quota – and was desperate to do so. Is that why she accepted the date? Or did she truly believe that Obara – her date for that evening – was harmless?

We will never know. What we do know is that Lucie’s body was found nine months later, buried in a rocky seaside cave, dismembered, her head encased in cement, any evidence washed away by tide and time. After a desperate search by her grieving family, the truth was almost too much to bear.

Lucie, their golden girl, dead – cut up, and left alone in darkness.

Parry paints a complex portrait of both the Blackman family (torn apart by divorce and grief), Lucie, Obara – the accused killer and rapist, and Japan’s judicial system and police force. He talked to endless people – witnesses, friends, family members, and police officers. He walked Lucie’s path and tried to discover – finally and forever – what befell her in Obara’s apartment.

It’s a startlingly involving read, made all the more evocative by how Parry approaches his interviewees. He tries not to judge (as I did – I couldn’t help but be disgusted by Lucie’s father at almost every turn, and my opinion hasn’t changed one iota) and he gets to the true heart of their own flaws, failings and yet – their humanity. Their endless love for the girl who vanished. I found Lucie’s mother’s premonitions, grief and unwavering love very, very moving.

Of course, amidst all of the questions and drama, there is Lucie. A much loved daughter and sister, a heartbreaker, a confused and lonely girl, an affectionate and giggly friend, and in the end, perhaps – a mystery. We can never know the depths of another’s heart. We can never truly know what Lucie knew in her final moments – perhaps she knew nothing at all. And wouldn’t that be a sweet mercy, for what we <i>do</i> know is that she fell into the arms of a murderous, rapacious monster of a human being – who sought only his own pleasure, and thought nothing of the women he brought to his lair – thought of them as objects for his “conquest”, for his “play”, for his killing, raping, cutting, filming, objects objects all.

People who eat darkness indeed.

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