The distinctive crime writing of Hideo Yokoyama

The distinctive crime writing of Hideo Yokoyama
  1. The distinctive crime writing of Hideo Yokoyama
    Not the usual approach to crime for Hideo Yokoyama. He's more interested the psychology and social dynamics of characters who happen to be affected by…

Hideo Yokoyama is one of Japan's most popular crime novelists. Yet he regards the crime as the least interesting part of the stories he tells.

"Usually, in a mystery or thriller, the main character is the detective, and the crime is the main ingredient," said Yokoyama. "But is that really a special thing for the detective? It's not a big deal for the detective."

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Hideo Yokoyama, the popular crime novelist, at home in Isesaki, Japan. Hideo Yokoyama, the popular crime novelist, at home in Isesaki, Japan. Photo: New York Times

Instead, Yokoyama, 60, is interested in the psychology and social dynamics of characters who happen to be affected by crime. In the case of Six Four, his 15th novel and the first to be translated into English, the main character, Yoshinobu Mikami, is not a detective but a police department spokesman ensnared in a 14-year-old unsolved kidnapping case while his own teenage daughter has gone missing.

While there is a whodunit aspect to the novel (and a spectacular twist at the end), much of the book's 560-plus pages are devoted to probing Mikami's domestic life with his wife, a former detective, as they navigate their marriage after their daughter runs away, and exploring the treacherous police bureaucracy and its combative relations with the news media.

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Six Four. By Hideo Yokoyama. Six Four. By Hideo Yokoyama. Photo: Supplied.

"In order to describe the main character's feelings or passions, you need a big organisation that is like a big ocean that I let the character swim in," said Yokoyama, who spent a dozen years as a reporter on the police beat in Gunma prefecture.

Six Four has sold extremely well in Japan. Yokoyama follows other Japanese crime writers whose work has been translated into English, including Seicho Matsumoto, Natsuo Kirino and Keigo Higashino, though he is assigned to a marketing pigeonhole that compares Six Four to Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But Six Four features a stodgy protagonist who is called a "gargoyle" by the press and is haunted by the fact that his daughter ran away because she "despised the face she inherited".


In his descriptions of interactions between police and the media, Yokoyama captures their everyday sexism: One junior press officer, a young woman, repeatedly asks Mikami to let her attend after-hours drinking sessions with reporters. He refuses, in a paternalistic effort to protect her from lecherous journalists.

Yokoyama said he grew frustrated with journalism and what he saw as its absolutist lens.

"When I was a reporter, I was very confident that I was not the kind of person who could ever commit a crime," he said. "But now that I have been working as an author, I believe that I could commit a crime – or that anyone could commit a crime."

Toward the end of his reporting career, Yokoyama started writing fiction. He submitted a short story for a literary prize and won third place; by then, he had decided to quit his job.

He was 34 and married, with two young children at home, so he worked odd jobs at moving and security companies while writing in his s…

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