Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review of Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998; original 1986)

Palomino Molero is found horrifically murdered in the Peruvian desert, near to an air force base in the 1950s. Two local cops, Lieutenant Silva and Officer Lituma investigate. They discover that Molero was stationed at the base, but the commanding officer there refuses them permission to question other personnel as it is outside their jurisdiction. Undeterred they continue to pick away at the case. Besides solving the mystery, Silva is obsessed with bedding a local woman, and he has vowed to do both.

Llosa won the novel prize for literature in 2010. Having read this short novel by him, I’m mystified as to why. Maybe it was an issue with translation, as the prose was mundane and flat, the plot was straightforward, with no real surprises or twists, and the tale has little in the way of literary subtext, other than being an honest kid or cop in a corrupt society brings few rewards. The kid in this case is Palomino Molero, a musician who volunteers for the air service, who is murdered and haunts the story. The cops are two officers, one somewhat naïve, the other more canny. Rather than ignore the murder, as their senior officers and the commander of a local air base want, the two cops keep working away it, slowly making progress, though they’re aware that if they do succeed, nobody is likely to thank them. Overall, an interesting enough police procedural tale set in 1950s Peru.

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