At first the story was a puzzle, which developed over time into a profound mystery. Lucie emerged as a tragic victim, and finally as a cause, the subject of vigorous, bitter contestation in a Japanese court. The story attracted much attention in Japan and Britain, but it was fickle and inconsistent. For months at a time there would be no interest in Lucie’s case, then some fresh development would bring a sudden demand for news and explanation. In its outlines the story was familiar enough— girl missing, body found, man charged— but, on inspection, it became so complicated and confusing, so fraught with bizarre turns and irrational developments that conventional reporting of it was almost inevitably unsatisfactory, provoking more unanswered questions than it could ever quell.
This quality of evasiveness, the sense in which it outstripped familiar categories of news, made the story fascinating. It was like an itch that no four columns of newspaper copy or three-minute television item could ever scratch. The story infected my dreams; even after months had passed, I found it impossible to forget Lucie Blackman. I followed the story from the beginning and through its successive stages, trying to craft something consistent and intelligible out of its kinks and knots and roughness. It took me ten years.
–Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness
People Who Eat Darkness is an example of true crime being stranger than fiction right from the start. Beautiful, young Londoner Lucie Blackman was a hostess in the Roppongi District of Tokyo, lighting the cigars of Japanese businessmen and flirting with them as they drank. She went for a drive to the seaside with one of the men from the club, and never came back. Her panicked roommate, who immediately suspected something was wrong, received a phone call from a man insisting that Lucie had joined a cult and wouldn’t be coming home. Although roommate Louise begged to speak with Lucie, the man refused to let Louise speak with Lucie. “She’s not feeling well,” he said, “she’s starting a new life now.”
Thus starts the strange and tragic tale of Lucie Blackman’s disappearance. People Who Eat Darkness has popped up on so many best of true crimes lists as of late I took it as a sign to read it, and I wasn’t disappointed. Well-written true crime books are hard to find, as they often get so bogged down with dates and facts that they lose some of their humanity, or at the other end, they pay so little respect to the humans involved that they feel flagrant.
Richard Lloyd Parry, as a London correspondent living in Japan, was witness to the entire investigation surrounding Lucie’s disappearance, and ultimately, became an odd sort of part of the story himself, when the man put on trial for Lucie’s death sued him for libel. He is in the unique position to identify with Lucie, as much as an older man can, as a foreigner living in Japan. He seeks, vigorously, from the book’s introduction onwards, to establish and understand Lucie as a human, rather than as just part of a headline. He takes this compassionate stance with every person involved in the story, from Lucie’s misunderstood father who doesn’t seem to behave correctly in the aftermath of Lucie’s disappearance, to her murderer, whom Parry examines through his history and familial experience as well as his shocking, atrocious acts.
Without giving too much of the story away here, I think the story of Lucie’s disappearance also illustrates the difficulty of investigation in general, as police have a bizarre brush with their bad guy before they have all the facts, and they let him off. Tokyo as a city is known for its relative safety, and the police are simply unprepared to handle this sort of dark stuff, once it is exposed. The sad story of Lucie, with all its odd turns and stops, reminds me of how different the real world is from the mystery novels I love to read. If mystery novels are full stories chiseled out of a raw piece of marble by an author, true crime is an author stumbling through a quarry after police and criminals and victims, picking up rocks, trying to hold as many as he can in one basket before they all fall loose. From the confusion surrounding what exactly a hostess does to the odd ruling in the trial, Parry manages to patiently explain the convoluted case and its circumstances, while keeping up the pace.