Customer Reviews: Who Killed Palomino Molero?: A Novel
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on September 24, 2000
First this is a crisp short book that is well worth the time to read. The setting alone is quite different from most mysteries/police procedurals. A peruvian Air Force Airman is brutally murdered and two local Guardia Civil Policeman must find the killer before their small town goes crazy thinking they are protecting the "big guys." They get no help from the Air Force officials. Character devleopment is remarkably good for such a short book and you will grow to appreciate Lituma and the Lieutenant and hope that the first LLosa mystery will include more stories of this pair. My only complaint is that 10 bucks is a lot to ask for a book that will take you 3 hours to read.
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Eminent Peruvian novelist Llosa tries his hand at the crime story with this police procedural set in 1950s Peru. He doesn't stray too far from the tropes of the genre, as a crafty Guarda Civil Lieutenant and his sentimental Sergeant run afoul of powerful military types as they investigate the torture and murder of a young airman from a nearby Air Force base. Still, in this novella length story, he manages to produce a remarkable amount of character development with the two policeman, including an offbeat subplot about the Lieutenant's infatuation with a pudgy married cook. Unsurprisingly, as they slowly unfold the circumstances surrounding the young man's killing, issues of race, class, and corruption come to the fore. And, with such a buildup, it should come as no surprise that the resolution is more bitter than sweet. In sum, this is a relatively minor work from a major writer.
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on December 24, 1999
"Who Killed Palomino Molero?" is Mario Vargas Llosa's first stab at the detective thriller genre and it's a winner! Llosa uses the premise of a murder mystery to explore the theme of innocence and guilt in a society that's so ridden with corruption that the concept of justice is all but an illusion. There is no sense of relief in the denouement when the truth is told and the identity of the killer is revealed. Just like Alicia, the Colonel's daughter, the people of Talara suffer from permanent delusion, preferring to ignore the facts and attribute all of society's ills to "the big boys". Lituma is Lieutenant Silva's foil but also Llosa's voice. Through his ruminations and asides, Llosa articulates his horror of corruption and racism that permeate Peruvian life. Never making heavy weather of serious themes, Llosa infuses the novel with such sidesplitting humour you can't help but revel in Silva's obsessive lust over the voluptuous Dona Adriana. His sense of comedy and intuitive grasp of what's funny is displayed none more convincingly than in the final scene when the lady turns the tables on Silva. This is definitely one of the most captivating and enjoyable books I have read all year. Don't miss it !
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on December 31, 1999
I loved the book. It was based on real events as witnessed by my father in the airforce base of Talara (Peru). Palomino is the sacrificial lamb of jelaousy and later corruption. A great read for a change of pace.
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on January 17, 2002
The time is the 1950s, the place is Peru, and the victim is a young air force enlisted man named Palomino Molero, in Mario Vargas Llosa's spare, tightly written and excellently constructed whodunit. Palomino Molero, eighteen years old, a guitar player who enchanted everyone for miles around singing boleros, is found brutally tortured and murdered near a local air force base.

Two civil guards, Officer Lituma and Lieutenant Silva, try to unravel the crime. Rumors abound all over the place; the victim was involved in smuggling or the like and the higher-ups are covering up the perpetrators. But when Silva and Lituma find out that what Palomino Molero was involved in was not smuggling but a love affair with the daughter of his base commander, the plot thickens in all kinds of ways.

Vargas Llosa's book is not only a crime novel but a bitter indictment of the social/racial conflicts of modern Peru, where an airman cannot fall in love with the daughter of a colonel, especially if she is white and he is a cholo (half-breed). Vargas Llosa knows how to leaven his story with comic relief; Lieutenant Silva is hopelessly in love with and shamelessly pursuing the respectably married Dona Adriana, and her revenge on him for his presumption is a riot. The murder is solved, but the townspeople won't accept the truth, and insist that they were right all along; there were "higher-ups" involved. "Higher-ups" indeed.

It would be a crime in itself to give the solution away and I'm not going to; suffice to say that Vargas Llosa has written a gem of a murder mystery with an ingenious plot twist. It's a very short novel and shows again that some of the best things come in small packages.

Judy Lind
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on May 21, 2013
I fell in love with Vargas Llosa's bewitching style less than a month ago, when I read my first novel by this brilliant author, "Death in the Andes," also a detective story, but published 7 years after "Who Killed Palomino Molero," in 1993. I immediately took up "War of the End of the World," a Masterpiece, which I am still trudging through, while lightening up the load with brief forays such as this small treasure.

Just as these other two Vargas Llosa novels, "Who Killed Palomino Molero" is more poetic rendering of the humanity's tribulations and propensity for hope than a complex, fast paced story. Unlike most modern fiction, which pulls readers in through plot twists, action, and constant end of chapter "cliff hangers," inducing them to forget the writing and word choice and to follow through to the end for curiosity about what happens, Vargas Llosa's work is brilliant because his stories are secondary, they are merely a vehicle for his insightful and beautifully written commentary (Do not misunderstand me: I love a good story, as modern technology, film/TV and other forms of entertainment have taught us to do; as time passes, we tend to be less patient, more eager for action than for thought--but few writers, such as Vargas Llosa, still have the power to capture attention and remind us that there is much more to be gained by savoring life than by rushing through it).

"Who Killed Palomino Molero" does not stand on its own as a mystery (the two guards who investigate the death of deserter airman Palomino Molero solve the crime because individuals openly confess, not because of their investigative skills, not with the help of any Sherlockian deductions or forensics), however, it offers a beautiful and fascinating depiction of life in coastal Peru around the 1950s as well as a portrait of life in poverty and of how individuals may find meaning and even happiness under depriving, inhospitable conditions.

Abject impoverishment, racism, corruption, incest, savage murder, obscenity, squalid heat, and classism constitute the background of the mystery--but the foreground of the story, which follows Civil Guard (policeman) Lituma and his commanding officer as they seek to uncover the mystery of a young "cholo" (person of color) who has been found severely mutilated and impaled in a field of carob trees on the outskirts of an airforce base.

Faced with the racism of whites on the base, with nepotism in the ranks (and subsequent punishment in the form of reassignment), with unspeakable tragedy (in the form of a mother who has lost her last son and living relative, or in the form of intimidated neighbors unwilling to speak out for fear of retribution), with sexual desire and unrequited love, Lituma's story paints a desolate (yet not a miserable or wretched) landscape within which he manages to not only survive, but to maintain a serene and even joyous attitude towards celebrating the seemingly insignificant moments which constitute daily experience. For Vargas Llosa presents Lituma as an ultimately satisfied (if not happy) man, as someone whose profundity arises from his attunement to lived experience.

Through Lituma's descriptions, we experience fully the scorching Peruvian sun, the smell of the landscape--carob trees, dust, manure, the sounds of the villages, the squalid poverty of most villagers--but also the simple joys of dining with friends, of smoking a cigar(ette) on the ocean shore at midnight, of a hot cup of coffee on a cold summer night, or of the inspiring melody of a guitarist strumming a bolero. Vargas Llosa manages to do depict all this melodically, yet using simple, not overtly flowery language (of course, this is based on the English translation, but the same has been written about his original Spanish)--unlike most other modern writers who seem to equivocate poetic writing with the usage of obscure verbiage, of impossibly long sentences, intricate constructions, and original metaphors (and who end up sounding pretentious for doing this 9 times out of 10).

Most of all, Vargas Llosa is a master phenomenologist (on par with philosophers such as David Abram, Edward Casey, Jean Paul Satre, and Albert Camus), someone who attends to the hidden mysteries of mundane, reflexive acts, to the structure of consciousness, and to the inextricable relationship between human experience and context (not limited to social or natural domains but encompassing both). Unlike Sartre and Camus, however, Vargas Llosa's phenomenological descriptions, while bleak, are not depressing, but ultimately uplifting: his characters, seeped in the experience of deprivation (versus Sartre' and Camus' privileged characters), seem to understand the importance of valuing--and deriving peace or happiness from--every detail (which Sartre and Camus do not even seem notice in their highbrow philosophical meanderings).

If you are looking for an atmospheric, brooding, existentially gripping portrait of Peruvian life in mid century, you will enjoy "Who Killed Palomino Molero"; if, on the other hand, you are looking for a clever mystery filled with twists and surprises, you'd be better off reading something else.
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on November 25, 2014
"The boy had been both hung and impaled on the old carob tree. His position was so absurd that he looked more like a scarecrow or a broken marionette than a corpse. Before or after they killed him, they slashed him to ribbons: his nose and mouth were split open; his face was a crazy map of dried blood, bruises, cuts, and cigarette burns." So begins Mario Vargas Llosa's short, riveting detective novel set in a small town in 1950s Peru. After reading for the third time, I asked myself: now what makes `Who Killed Palomino Molero?' so gripping, so totally absorbing? On reflection, I think there are several good reasons:

The way the story is told: we follow the path of two policeman from the local force, Lieutenant Silva and his young assistant, Lituma, as they make their rounds on foot, usually under a blazing hot sun, to solve the case. The 3rd person narrator frequently dips into the mind of Lituma, making for most effective storytelling - it is as if the emotions and actions of all the characters are intensified by Lituma's feelings and musings.

The arch of the story: the guts of the novel, the plot, follows what Aristotle outlines in his Poetics. Each successive scene develops and reveals the details of motive and character as the lieutenant and Lituma converse with one key player in the murder's drama in each chapter. We encounter unexpected twists along the way, but, ultimately, there is a sense of inevitability in how events unfold and ultimately conclude.

The subplot: nothing like a little lust to add some spice to a murder mystery. Lieutenant Silva yearns for chubby Doña Adriana, owner of the local rundown, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. As the mystery is resolved in the last chapter, so also is Lieutenant Silva's relationship with his chubby object of sexual hunger. Aristotle would be pleased.

So, all in all, a novel well worth the read and at 150 pages of large print, a novel that can be read in a day. And if you are unacquainted with Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, finishing this short work might motivate you to tackle one of his longer novels.
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on January 16, 2016
Rated strictly as a police procedural, this book would rate three stars at most, probably two. But that isn't what it primarily is. It is a portrait of a society with its racism, classism, corruption, cynicism (not always justified here), and at times honor. It is also an exploration of a cast of interesting characters whom the reader gets to know really well; one character, Alicia Mindreau, remains something of an enigma, but likely by design. Despite the horrendous murder with which it begins, this book is also at times extremely funny, the final chapter especially so. Greatly enjoyed.
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on October 17, 2014
It is always interesting when a respected writer has a go at a murder mystery and what Mario Vargas Llosa has produced is a short but very worthwhile read. He creates a wonderfully moody, threatening atmosphere full of unresolved tensions of love, lust, hate, envy and loss. His two small town cops are far craftier than they let on and one wishes Vargas Llosa had produced a few other tales of their exploits in the sultry, stormy Peruvian setting he created for them.
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on February 13, 2002
This book reminds me of "chronicle of a death foretold" - you may think this is too much of a overdraft but this is just pure sunshine. The translation is just as effective as the plot. The main investigators in the case Lituma and Lieutenant Silva represent a class who takes the insult in what ever form it may be but do not nudge back - gives back a subtle reply which gives the final twist. The author has been able to achieve a twist inside a twist which keeps us wondering at the end about the real topic of the book, which is suppose to be a detective story. The plot changes from an investigation story to traumatic social relations living history. Sometimes I was thinking - is this father Brown with a little bit of Tango? The death of Palomino Molero does not represent a simple case of torture and murder but a social dilemma of hatrate which has its grips so deeply rooted that sometimes people do not even question it . I promise you will enjoy this book.
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