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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa

Palomino Molero [a name that means male palomino horse and miller--or possibly one who grinds (gets ground up?)], a young man who didn't have to enlist, enlists.  But he goes AWOL.  Later, he croon a woman Talara Air Force Base in  Peru although who he's crooning is a mystery, except to those who viciously killed him and most of the Air Base itself, which is out of the jurisdiction of the two detectives on the case:  Lieutenant Silva and Officer Lituma.  The colonel isn't cooperating and Silva suspects the colonel is involved somehow--perhaps involving his own out-of-control daughter.

Silva and Lituma cast their nets wider and come up with a drunken pilot who is slowly coming around to giving information when the MP pick him up and escort him away.

Many great Latin American moments shine through the text  which many outside their culture might miss:
"Lituma got up quickly and followed [Silva] out, forgetting to bid Doña Lupe farewell."
This is a breach of etiquette that glimpses Lituma's mental state.  Often, I walk into an office and must remind myself to greet everyone.  If I forget--the American way is to get business taken care of--my reception is greeted a little icily.  Therefore, Lituma is very preoccupied to have done so.

The novel treats love--what is it and what would you do to get it?--as well as trying to get work done in the midst of government corruption.  Even our heroes get involved in their corruption where the themes collide (Silva is in love with an older, married woman and invites Lituma to see why Silva's in love with her):
" 'My little Chubby belongs to a superior race of women:  those who don't wear panties.  Think of all the advantages....'
" Lieutenant Silva passed him the binoculars, but no matter how much he squinted,  he didn't really see to much.  Doña Adriana bathed right at the edge of the water."
This serves as a metaphor for the differences between the two men:  Silva can see the strength and desirability in this stout, older woman.  Lituma cannot.  Silva can also read between the lines in people's testimonies and get what he needs from them.  Silva is Sherlock Holmes; Lituma, the impressed if befuddled Watson.

Of course, they get caught:
" 'And what else?' said the girl, standing behind them.... 'You're not only pigs, but you abuse authority, too.  You call yourselves policemen?  You're even worse than people say you are."
Silva's reply is a genius lie, and unfortunately, too often occurs among those for whom lying is easy, even when you're clearly caught (something you hear a lot as a teacher):
"It's dangerous to surprise the police when they're involved in their work, [M]iss.  Suppose I turned around shooting?...  This point is a natural lookout.   We use it to keep track of boats bringing in contraband from Ecuador....  Besides,[M]iss..., insults from you are like roses to a gentleman."
Clearly, the book has not only a strong plot but also a strong character dynamic which helps if you are familiar with the culture.  It's a page-turner that also provokes thought and makes you squirm.  Worth checking out.

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