By Mario Vargas Llosa
(Translated by Alfred Mac Adam)
New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987
ISBN # 0-02-022570-9 (paper)
151 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
August 2008

There’s been a brutal murder, a young local boy was tortured and nailed to a carob tree as if on a cross. The two local police officers of this tiny village in Peru set out to investigate. Complications set in since evidence immediately points toward the local military post, but Lieutenant Silva and patrolman Lituma carry on anyway.

Their short 19 day investigation seemingly solves the crime, but the two policemen are quite convinced nothing will come of the investigation and their formal report about it because of class differences – the perpetrators are from the military which tends to be whites from the middle and upper classes. The victim is a chola of the local population, an underclass boy of color, as are the police officers.

The novel and investigation move slowly, imitating the pace of life in the hot and tiny village, and it shapes up to be an “us” against “them” tale. Seemingly it is a murder of a local chola by someone or group connected to the military and the sub-text suggests nothing will be done to bring justice.

This marvelously written crime story wanders on slowly, yet the clever Lieutenant Silva solves the murder in less than three weeks.

At this point, only a short distance from the end of the tale, the novel explodes in depths we have a hard time imagining involving many aspects of human evil. We have conspiracy theories, mental illness, perhaps rape and incest, infidelity and sexual humiliation, rampant corruption and more. The ending is simply brilliant and breath-taking.

Mario Vargas Llosa is a brilliant writer, seeming to understand human weakness to the core. In only 151 pages he manages to build a pace of development which resembles a literary version of Bolero which simply explodes in the last 25 pages.

This crime story is reminiscent of a later novel of Llosa which I had read a few years ago, DEATH IN THE ANDES.

WHO KILLED PALOMINO MOLERO? is a quick but delightful read, human to the core.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu