Book review: 『カディスの赤い星』by Go Osaka

Cover of カディスの赤い星. Cover illustration: picture of a man playing classical guitar, but the picture is blurred.
Title: カディスの赤い星(カディスのあかいほし)
First published: 1986
Page Count: 953
Translation: The Red Star of Cádiz, by Usha Jayaraman
Ryo Urushida is a PR man whose biggest client is a renowned maker of music instruments. A famous guitar craftsman, Jose Ramos, is invited by Urushida’s client to Japan and asks Ryo Urushida to find a Japanese guitarist for him. We are in 1975, the last year of Franco’s dictatorship, and Urushida’s quest will eventually lead him to the heart of the Spanish opposition to Franco.

It is very hard for me to review this novel, because there are a lot of things that I didn’t like, but I am pretty sure it is because of my dislike for hardboiled novels rather than because of the quality of the book. It has been translated into English, has very good reviews overall, and managed to win three prestigious awards, so if you like action, Spain and flamenco music, you might as well just ignore my review and get the book.

The first half was a bit slow in my opinion, but I enjoyed reading it because it felt like reading a mystery novel: who is the mysterious guitarist? What happened in the past? How can Urushida locate him? It also gives a good insight in Urushida’s job.

Then, similarly to the other hardboiled novels I have read in Japanese, the second half moves from mystery to adventure/action, and this is where I started losing interest in the story. This is interesting because I read a review saying the exact opposite, that the story became more interesting in the second half. So this makes me think that it is really a problem of me not liking the action/adventure genre, rather than the book not being good.

The second half takes place in Spain. While the setting was becoming more and more interesting (we are at the heart of the opposition movements), the plot became lazy. It’s entirely based on action, and it felt very repetitive, easy to predict and not very exciting to me. There are two scenes that are basically the same sequence of events one after the other, and some tricks used by the characters felt like the kind of things you would expect in a book for children, which kind of took away the sense of danger and excitement that you are supposed to feel in these situations.

Another thing that I found annoying with the story is that the plot relies on missed opportunities to go on. Instead of having a really complex mystery that would indeed necessitate 950 pages to crack, the task given to Urushida could in fact have been very easy to achieve. It takes so long because of the character losing track of the person he is tailing, things that should have been said but weren’t (or were said too late), trust placed in people who had already shown they should not be trusted, etc. I personally found this frustrating to read.

Finally, I think that this is a characteristic of hardboiled novels, but I dislike the way it is narrated. We have a first-person narration, but we hardly know what Urushida is thinking or feeling. It feels like we are seeing our first-person narrator from the outside.

This being said, there are a lot of things that I liked in this novel as well, the historical setting and flamenco music being two of the main things I enjoyed. In the story, there is often flamenco music playing in the background, and reading this book was an opportunity for me to get an introduction to this musical genre. The end was also surprising and renewed with the mystery genre.

Overall, I enjoyed the first half and the end of the novel, but the parts that rely solely on action were just not for me.