An Interview with Timothy Hemion
Posted March 29, 2005
How many books are there in the Inspector Morimoto series?
Three books have been published so far. They all appeared in 2004. The first was entitled Inspector Morimoto and the Two Umbrellas, which was followed by Inspector Morimoto and the Diamond Pendants and Inspector Morimoto and the Famous Potter.
Why did you choose Japan as a setting for the stories?
Ever since my first visit to Japan as a young mathematics researcher, Iíve always had a great love for the Japanese people and for Japanese culture. My contacts with the country were established when I was invited to visit some of the universities in Japan, and Iíve also spent several months working at some of Japanís research institutions. I felt that Japan would make an interesting background for western readers, and that it would also lead to a better understanding of Japan and its culture in the rest of the world.
Why did you choose the city of Okayama as the center of the stories?
I didnít want to use one of the very big cities, like Tokyo, Osaka or Yokohama, and so Okayama appealed to me as the right kind of medium size city where it would be interesting for Inspector Morimoto to work. Okayama is on the bullet train line, and so it is easily accessible from other cities like Osaka and Hiroshima, which also works well in the stories. I had visited Okayama University several times and had looked around the city and had done some sightseeing, and it is a city and region that I really like. I particularly enjoy the Japanese countryside, and the area close to and around Okayama city is very beautiful.
What parts of Japan do you write about in the stories?
I write about Okayama city, of course, and in the stories Inspector Morimoto always takes a trip somewhere else. In the first book he visits Osaka, and in the second he visits Hiroshima and Miyajima. This gives me the opportunity to write a little bit about these places. In the third book he makes a trip to Kyoto, and also to Bizen. The third story is based around the beautiful Bizen pottery, so I have the opportunity to explain quite a lot about the history of pottery making in the Bizen region and the manner in which it is produced--particularly the Ďhappy accidentsí of the firing which can produce such remarkable effects. Each book contains a map at the front showing the Okayama region and the positions of the other cities in the story as this will not be familiar to most western readers.
Why does the railway system feature so prominently in the books?
I myself have always loved riding on trains, and Japan has such an excellent railway network. Within Okayama city, Inspector Morimoto always likes to ride on the trams (except when he is trying to hide from the press!) but for his trips outside Okayama city he likes to ride on the trains. Of course, the bullet trains are discussed a lot in the books, and they often play a significant part in the plot. I keep a copy of the railway timetables on the desk next to me when Iím writing and developing the stories. But, Inspector Morimoto also likes to ride on the ordinary trains along some of the other lines such as the Sanyo Main Line and the Ako Line. In fact, one of Inspector Morimotoís favorite railway journeys is on the Sanyo Main Line between Okayama and Himeji, and this trip is described in the first book. The slow journey gives him some quiet time to think and contemplate on the status of his investigation, and he enjoys the beautiful rural scenery that the train passes through. This provides me with a good opportunity to describe the Japanese countryside to the readers.
What other aspects of Japanese life do the books describe?
I enjoy writing about Japanese food. The books contain frequent descriptions of the different kinds of delicious foods that there are in Japan, such as the lunch boxes that can be bought at the railway stations, meals of fresh sushi and sashimi, Osaka-style pancakes, and the cold noodles that are eaten in the summer. The third book also has a description of a funeral service, and each book is set at a different time of year so that the different weather conditions can be described. The first book takes place during the summer rainy season, while the third book is during the spring so that Iím able to write about the beautiful cherry blossoms. I also write about the legend of Momotaro, and his statue outside Okayama station features in the plots.
Which members of the Okayama Police Department do you write about?
The members of the Okayama Police Department who we meet are Inspector Morimoto, his assistant Officer Suzuki, Sergeant Yamada and the Chief. Inspector Morimoto has over twenty-five years of experience as a detective, while Suzuki has only just started working in the police force. She graduated from the very prestigious Tokyo University with a degree in mathematics before she began working with Inspector Morimoto. Sergeant Yamada is the captain of the police judo team, and heís always looking for the opportunity to get out of headquarters and to get around town meeting people. Best of all, he enjoys driving around town in the squad cars with the sirens wailing.
Can you tell us something about Inspector Morimotoís personality?
Inspector Morimoto is soft-spoken with a kind face. Heís never in a hurry, and heís very organized and methodical in everything that he does. Heís quite content being a police detective, though much of the routine work that heís involved with doesnít really inspire him. What he really enjoys are the especially intriguing puzzles that he encounters every now and again, and which form the basis for the stories. Heís at his happiest when heís in his office, leaning back in his chair with his feet up on his desk and his hands locked behind his head, thinking about a puzzling case and discussing it with Officer Suzuki. Inspector Morimoto enjoys the intellectual process of solving the case just as much as finally being able to bring the criminals to account for their crimes.
What kind of a working relationship does Inspector Morimoto have with Officer Suzuki?
The basis of the relationship between Inspector Morimoto and Officer Suzuki is that they both have a deep respect for each otherís abilities. They both enjoy trying to make sense of the puzzles that they are presented with, and they are both very good at doing so. And an important point is that they both recognize that while it is enjoyable to solve the puzzles by themselves, it is much more satisfying to have somebody else to work with and to be able to discuss their ideas with. To discover a plausible explanation for a set of ostensibly nonsensical events and observations is satisfying enough in itself, but as Inspector Morimoto and Officer Suzuki have both learned through their collaboration, to be able to share their deductions, arguments and logical reasonings with each other is immensely more fulfilling.
How do Inspector Morimoto and Officer Suzuki work together?
Officer Suzuki almost always accompanies Inspector Morimoto when he is conducting an interview or when he is on a trip. During an interview, Inspector Morimoto always asks the questions, while Officer Suzuki watches the personís face carefully and learns what she can from the personís general demeanor. Officer Suzuki is responsible for keeping notes on the important facts, and for performing any research that is necessary on her computer. Many chapters of the books are taken up with the discussions that Inspector Morimoto and Officer Suzuki have as they sit together in their office at the Police Headquarters. In these discussions they go through the facts of the cases and sort through the logical deductions that they are able to make as they attempt to resolve the puzzles.
What other characters are there besides the personnel of the Okayama Police Department?
There is a pathologist Dr. Ogata, and the head of the Forensic Laboratory is Dr. Jimbo. Also, Mr. Sasaki is a young employee of an insurance company called Calamity Assurance, and Mr. Bando is one of Okayamaís most prominent lawyers. Another character is Mrs. Tanaka who owns the Sour Plum bar which is often frequented by elements of the criminal community, and who is not averse to occasionally sharing some of the gossip that she overhears with Inspector Morimoto.
How do Officer Suzukiís mathematical abilities assist her in her job?
Not many students join the police force after finishing a mathematics degree, but the disciplines of mathematics and crime detection do, in fact, have many very basic similarities. The ability to exploit patterns and to identify inconsistencies is a fundamental necessity for any good mathematician, and also for any good police detective, as Officer Suzuki often tries to explain to her friends. She is also quick to spot any symmetries and patterns in the events that they uncover in their investigations, and she uses these as a basis for her logical deductions.
What role does the Chief of the Okayama Police Department play in the stories?
The Chief is Inspector Morimotoís boss. He oversees the department like a father figure, and nothing gives him greater pleasure than to hear somebody praise the efficiency of his department. In turn, he is quick to express his appreciation for Inspector Morimoto and Officer Suzuki when they do well, yet at the same time he can become very impatient with them if they donít produce results as quickly as heíd like them to. Overall, the Chief provides a comic element to the stories with his amusing personality and with his preoccupation with the Police Departmentís reputation in the eyes of the general public, the City Council, and the police authorities in Tokyo.
Are there more books planned in the series, and if so, are publication dates available?
I'm just finishing book 4 "Inspector Morimoto and the Sushi Chef." I'm planning to send it to iUniverse next week. Below is some info on it. I'm hoping to write many more books in the series - at least one a year.
I'm finding that the writing is getting easier as the characters become more fleshed out and more interesting. I enjoy writing the Chief's parts the most.
Inspector Morimoto and the Sushi Chef A detective story set in Japan, in which a golf enthusiast is put on trial for multiple bank robberies.
The deductive powers of Inspector Morimoto and Officer Suzuki are pressed to the limit by the intriguing events that they encounter in their fourth case. A young factory worker is placed on trial for a series of cash machine robberies, and Sergeant Yamada is the first witness called by the Public Prosecutor as he quickly builds a compelling case under the austere gaze of Judge Noda and the experienced legal eye of Mr. Bando. And when Professor Shirane from the Osaka Science University provides testimony based upon his expertise in probability theory, the odds appear to be heavily stacked against the defendant.
Back at the Police Headquarters, the Chief hires a consulting company to assess the competency of his police force, and he also becomes concerned about the overzealous forensic work of Dr. Jimbo. Morimoto and Suzuki are intent upon delaying their interview with the consultants for as long as possible, and they begin to dig a little deeper into the defendant's golf games and his penchant for soaking in hot spring baths. And as the Chief lands in some hot water of his own, Morimoto and Suzuki hatch a carefully crafted plan that raises eyebrows throughout the legal establishment.
Background on Timothy Hemion
Timothy Hemion was born in England in 1961. He developed an early interest in mathematics and logical puzzles and he graduated from Cambridge University in 1982 with a first class degree in mathematics. Three years later he received his doctorate in probability and statistics from Cornell University, USA, at the age of 23. A year spent back-packing around Asia fuelled his interest in that part of the world, which has been maintained throughout his career as a professor at several universities, teaching and researching into mathematics. He has published a popular college textbook on probability and statistics, and has written numerous research articles developing new mathematical theories. His wife Miki worked as an announcer on Japanese television before their marriage, and she also shares his interest in mystery and detective stories. They currently live in Atlanta, USA, where Timothy enjoys reading history books and biographies in addition to his academic work.
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