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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Review: Who Killed Palomino Molero?, Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)

Title: Who Killed Palomino Molero?
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Translator: Alfred MacAdam
Publication: 1987/New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Original Publication: 1986/Spain?: Seix Barral (“ƾQuién mató a Palomino Molero?”)
ISBN #: 0374289786
# of pages: 151
Discovered at mysteries in paradise
Read in paper format
Also available in e-book, Spanish

It's northern Peru in the 1950s. A goat herder has called police officer Lituma out to view a body, a horribly mutilated and tortured body of a young man. Lituma quickly determines the young man is Palomino Molero, a beautiful singer who had unaccountably signed up for the army even though he was exempt from military service. He questions Molero's mother who could only say it was a matter of life and death for her son to enlist but she didn't know why. Questions to a few locals reveal that Molero was madly in love and used to serenade a girl near the air base before he joined up. Did he enlist to follow her?

Lituma’s boss Lieutenant Silva, also madly in love - with the chubby and very married Doña Adriana - works the case with him, teaching him interviewing techniques and the facts of life along the way. They work out of a rundown police station with little equipment and the local cabdriver acts as their chauffeur. They quickly run into roadblocks from the military, mixed with elitism and ethnic discrimination. Silva may suspect who is responsible but can he prove it and bring the culprit to justice?

This book came highly recommended and most of the reviews rate it very well. However, I found it a rough book: horrific murder, rough language, disparaging to women. This may well have been indicative of the times and the setting the author was portraying; I just don't enjoy reading this type of story. Hopefully Lituma is a fairly new police officer as he seems quite inexperienced and naive. Silva - despite his chauvinistic attitude towards his purported love - is a talented police officer, with creative approaches and a willingness to push against the establishment. His investigation is interesting but his treatment of Adriana borders on harassment. A number of topics were raised (power politics, lower class versus upper class, injustice) but they were touched on, not delved into. I reluctantly pushed myself to finish the book yet I have obviously missed what others saw since the majority of ratings were 4 and 5 stars. I was quite surprised to learn the author is a Nobel Prize winner in Literature. So I did miss something!!!    
Rating: (-_°)   Nodded off a few times but finished
Peruvian by birth, Llosa lived abroad for many years, especially after the Peruvian military burned 1,000 copies of one of his books. He returned in 1980, just as democratic rule was being reinstituted, and actually ran for the presidency in 1990. He was president of PEN International for three years and has written critical studies of authors as well as numerous books of fiction. He has received numerous literary honours.


  1. Certainly not everybody's cup of tea

  2. I can't remember if I've read this one, but I know I had to read some Vargas Llosa as a Spanish major. Some brutal books are not for me either.

  3. This was on my TBR list, but I couldn't get hold of it so had to turn to something else. I've read and enjoyed other Vargas Llosa novels, so am curious to see how this one pans out. But you are probably right - quite a few Latin American novels can be rather brutal, a reflection of the times, I daresay.

    1. Sounds like you may have some other Latin American mystery authors to suggest???