Book review: 『伝説なき地』by Yoichi Funado

Cover of 伝説なき地, showing a river winding through trees in the sunset light. The river is a bright orange, so is the sky. The trees surrounding the river are pitch black.
Title: 伝説なき地 (でんせつなきち)
First published: 1988
Published: 1995
Format: Bunko
Series Number: 3
Page Count: 1058
In Venezuela, Bartolomeo Elizondo is negotiating the rights to mine rare earth elements found on his property. This “land without legend”, which used to be a petroleum mine, will provide an unexpected income. Little does he know that the Elizondo family is about to go through a big crisis. Meanwhile in Colombia, Haruaki Tanpa is serving a sentence for violence against a police officer, but things soon become chaotic.

CW: depiction of rape, violence, some characters make discriminatory comments.

Even though this book is the third title in the Trilogy set in South America, each book can be read completely independently. 

I read 『伝説なき地』 because it won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, but I was certain that I would dislike it. First, I prefer reading books set in Japan when I read in Japanese, and most importantly, this book was classified as “Adventure”, and I did not like the other adventure books that won the prize. More generally, I was a bit disappointed that the winners of the Mystery Prize were mostly adventure and hardboiled novels in the 80s (rather than detective novels like during the early years), based more on action than deduction.

As a result, I am almost shocked that I loved this novel so much. 『伝説なき地』is one of the most riveting books among the prize winners that I have read so far, a story that I will likely never forget with impactful characters, epic battles and so much suspense all along. 

I don’t like the adventure/action genre in general because the outcome is often foreseeable and I really don’t see were the suspense is supposed to come from. In 『伝説なき地』, I was constantly taken aback. Things that I had not foreseen at all kept happening, there are a lot of deaths in the novel, a lot of twists, and almost no time to catch your breath. Every time the pace slows down a little, the characters (and the reader!) are soon taken is a new whirlwind of violence.

This is one of the most suspenseful books I have read in Japanese, and it maintains this pace during more than 1000 pages! It is impressive. 

The book becomes impossible to put down once the character of Haruaki Tanpa is introduced. It is rare to encounter a fictional character that leaves such an impact on you that you are likely to remember them long after finishing the book. Haruaki is such a character, someone I would have been happy to follow for a thousand more pages if the book had been twice as long.

Overall, all the characters are incredibly well portrayed. Maybe the two Goblez brothers were a bit stereotyped, but the other ones are really great. Some are despicable and really hard to be with, but the author manages to make the reader interested in their fate as well. They all have their own motivations: love, greed, cowardice, the prospect of a promotion, revenge… and violence is the result of all these aspirations coming together. 

I don’t often write a content warning for crime fiction, because it seems obvious that unpleasant things come with the genre, but I do think that this novel is not for everyone. Even I, who reads a lot of books related to violent death, found some depictions of torture and rape unpleasant to read. Race is also an important topic of the novel and some characters utter racist comments.

Overall, I really loved this book, and even though 1000 pages is a bit long to me, I will certainly read the other two books of the South America Trilogy one day. Also on my list is 虹の谷の五月 because it is the only book by this author that has been translated into English so far: May In The Valley Of The Rainbow by Eve Nyren.