Reviewed by Laura Isaacman
If you’re looking for a thrilling dive into pure evil, People Who Eat Darkness is it. With a captivating voice usually only found in fiction, Richard Lloyd Parry provides the factual account of 21-year-old Lucie Blackman, a British woman who travels to Japan and disappears. Lloyd Parry takes you inside the investigation—you’ll witness the hours leading up to the abduction, the police interrogation, and the press conferences. You’ll stop in bars and restaurants, looking for anyone who knows anything. You’ll flip thorough pages of Lucie Blackman’s diary, wander the streets of Tokyo looking for clues, and go deep into the lives of two families—one in the light, and the other in an enigmatic and utter darkness.
The story begins on the morning of the disappearance. We are taken through a cruddy apartment complex, past “blouses and dresses on overburdened hangers,” where the air is hot and clammy, and “a plastic alarm clock shows that it is almost noon.” After a long night out, Lucie Blackman is just waking up. In a few hours she will leave the complex, which she calls the “shithouse,” for the very last time.
The rest of the story is told from the outside—bits of information are gathered from friends, family, and strangers in an attempt to piece together the series of events that lead to Lucie Blackman’s death, “and the evil that swallowed her up.”
And that evil, in what may be its purest form, is embodied in Jojo Obara, who, with a voice “clear but unexpectedly soft and lisping, almost soggy,” denies direct involvement in the death of Lucie Blackman. “Though I might have some responsibility for the incident,” Obara says during the trial, “I didn’t do anything listed in the criminal indictment.” In the courts of Japan, which have a 99.85 percent conviction rate, Obara is charged with five other counts of rape, and “rape resulting in death” of both Lucie Blackman and Carita Simone Ridgway, a young woman who, years before, was fatally drugged by Obara at his seaside home.
Much of Obara remains a mystery. The details of his stories keep changing, and most of the time he refuses to comment on any part of the prosecution. On the day the Blackman’s arrive at the Tokyo court to provide evidence for the trial, the Tokyo Detention Center reports that Obara “has been taking off his clothes and clinging to the sink,” refusing to appear in court.
What we do know are the repetitive details of Obara’s “conquest play,” which he recorded for decades in his diaries, and on videotapes. We have all the evidence of these rapes, but the whereabouts of Lucie Blackman remains a mystery:
They shuffled through the labels on the videotapes, looking for something that might suggest a connection to Lucie. But there was nothing. The walls were bare: no missing-person posters here. Their hearts were racing, for they found themselves in an authentic dungeon, a place of sexual degradation, the kind of which everyone has heard of but that no one ever expects to see for himself. It was unspeakable and bizarre. It was so extreme and unthinkable that it had come to seem inevitable, almost a matter of logic, that it contained the answer to the mystery. So to find it lifeless and empty was an intense disappointment. Her friends had looked everywhere for Lucie, and now they had followed her trail here, to the darkest chamber of the human heart, a world of manacles and excretion and death—and still she was not here. It would have been easier to discover a gang of sadomasochists in mid-orgy, or a coven of witches engaged in a human sacrifice: some palpable, visible evil, something that could be engaged with blows, anything bit what confronted them at every corner: the stubborn absence of a girl.
The stubborn absence remains throughout the book, and the elusive truth becomes as compelling to the reader as it was for the Blackman family. The search is so mysterious—the people, the evidence, the trial, the outcome—that you will be left completely surprised by the truth that is revealed. Whether you’re familiar with the case of Lucie Blackman or not, People Who Eat Darkness is a delightful exploration of the underworld and about the darker parts of human nature. It tantalizes our greatest curiosities, which are also our worst fears, and thrills us with its plunge into madness. It’s a must read for anyone who is interested in what hides in darkness.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux