Paul Bryant's Reviews > People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry
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's review
Feb 24, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: true-crime
Read from February 24 to 26, 2011

This is a page-turner in which very little happens but a whole lot is discovered, about Japan particularly, and also about the grand-canyon-sized gulf of mutual squalor called the sex trade. It’s a sad and, well, banal story – Western girl goes to foreign parts to make some big money and never comes back. One day she walks out into the sunshine and eight months after that she’s dug up from a grave by the sea. Could that really make 400 pages of hypnotic reading?

Lucie Blackman was a tall striking blonde English woman who discovered that being an air stewardess was actually a rubbish job, wasn’t glamorous, wasn’t well paid and was making her ill. Her best mate Louise came up with an idea: Let’s go and be hostesses in a bar in Tokyo! We’ll make a bundle, you can clear all your debts and we’ll have a banging time. Come on! Lucie thought about it for a week and said to Louise – I’m up for it if you are kiddo! And she gave her notice in to BA. And they went. And they knew nothing about Japan or Tokyo or the strange sub-section of the sex trade they were joining, but they intended to learn fast.

They arrived in Tokyo on 3 May 2000 and Lucie was killed on 1st July 2000.


What did you say they were going to be? A hostess? What’s that now, exactly? Parry : “To Western ears the word sounded laughably seedy and euphemistic, scarcely more respectable than ‘escort’.”

Hostess bars are a Japanese thing where the man pays an hourly rate to sit at a table and have a glammed-up female in a sexy dress engage him in conversation and pour his drinks and stroke his… ego. That’s it! No sex! No back rooms! No disrobing! Parry : “The practise of paying for female company has a long and noble history in Japan.” The girls are supposed to keep the guy there buying drinks and chatting for as long as they can. If a guy stays for over three hours it can cost over £500. And all they’re getting is chat, which mostly, Mr Parry informs us, runs to Benny Hill style innuendo-laden remarks about the colour of the lady’s pants and the size of her bosoms. Apparently Japanese male banter with foreign women is a barrel-scraping affair. Some Westerners found themselves unable to grasp the concept of a hostess bar. Parry quotes a Frenchman raving furiously : “Why on earth has she been coming on so strong to me all evening if she doesn’t want to sleep with me?” Japanese men never made that beginners’ error.

Now surely, that can’t be all to hostessing? We’re not naïve! Well, no, it’s not – there was dohan. Which was a word referring to the date outside the hostess club which you went on with any client who became particularly smitten with you. The idea was that you got a free posh meal and then you brought him back to your club where he paid through the nose again. Parry : “At most clubs, any girl who pulled in fewer than five dohan in a month faced the sack. Securing dohan, for many hostesses, became an obsession and a source of deep anguish.” Dohan was not hooking, though. Hostessing was not prostitution.


That’s the local name for the sex business in Tokyo. Here you may patronise the following, amongst others :

Lapdancing clubs(naturally)
Strip joints (it goes without saying)
Korean/Chinese/Taiwanese aesthetic salon (various types of happy ending styled massages)
Fassyon Herusu (fashion health) – massage with a bunch of extra stuff
Deri-heru (Delivery Health) – here the lady will visit you for the above in your home or hotel
Sopu Rando (Soap land) – guess
Lingerie pubs (they serve you with their pants on)
Sexypubs (not here they don’t)
No-pants coffee shop (for the teetotaller – we try to think of everything for the tired executive)
No-pants karaoke coffee shop (in which “women without pants perform duets with the customers before, after or during relief”)
Heavy duty S&M joints (let’s not go there)

So, as you may see, hostess bars were the least sexual components of the water trade. There’s a whole psychological thesis to be written on why a guy will spend £500 on a hostess when there’s all the above on offer, but clearly, a lot do.

A client killed Lucie Blackwood during one of these dohan dates. This one took place at his flat. He was a serial dohan-date-rapist and it seems that he just overdosed Lucie. Many hostesses on reading about the case knew immediately not only what had happened to Lucie but exactly who had done it. But they were scared to tell the police because none of them had visas and they were not confident in the police overlooking their illegal status.


I think we all know that the whiter, younger and more female the victim is, the more the Western press is interested. This is very clear. There are other classifications of victims, though – into respectable and unrespectable for instance. Lucie’s family had to clarify the hostess thing for the British press as soon as possible. If hostesses were call girls the press would have got very bored after a week, but the family needed massive publicity to generate leads (Note : in fact they didn’t, the police had figured out what happened fairly quickly, but didn’t tell the family in case someone blurted out too much compromising information, so heartbreakingly, the father and sister and mother ran around raising big money and following many ridiculous leads for 7 months completely uselessly. But in retrospect the father was of the opinion that all the false leads at least kept them busy.)

So the dad wanted to meet Tony Blair to get him to pressure the Japanese PM to get the police to move quicker. Which happened. Parry says, casually, “no prime minister would meet with the father of a missing prostitute”. And later, Parry says

although the superintendent would never have spelled it out, if the missing woman had been, for example, a Chinese or Bangladeshi… his interest in the case would have been drastically reduced.


For people like me who like to get their sociology from true crime books, this is a must-read. For those looking for a shred of optimism about the state of male female relations in the early 21st century, it’s a must to avoid. Four stars.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Fascinating review. Have you read Hard Rain by Barry Eisler, by any chance?

message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny Great review.

Have you come across the Angela Carter quote about working at a hostess bar "where I could hardly call my breasts my own"?

message 3: by Paul (last edited Feb 27, 2011 11:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Hi Manny - Nope - she was a hostess? Goodness me!

Hi Eric - also nope, but I did read In the Miso Soup (see review). There were so many interesting tangents to this case that my review could have been very very long...

message 4: by Manny (last edited Feb 27, 2011 11:47PM) (new)

Manny she was a hostess? Goodness me!

It's well-documented. You get an interesting angle on her deranged male characters when you think that a fair number of them may be based on Tokyo salarymen...

message 5: by Esteban (new) - added it

Esteban del Mal I got kicked out of a place like that in Fukuoka once. I blame the gnomish Canadian I was saddled with, but got the generic, "Sorry, only Japanese" by some Chop Top looking fellow.

To be honest, I didn't really know what I had wandered into. I was 25 and saw a neon sillhouette of the female form from the street. When in Fukuoka...

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