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In Who Killed Palomino Molero? Mario Vargas LLosa has turned to detective fiction. The setting is Peru in the 1950s. Near an air force base in the northern deserts, a young airman is found brutally tortured and murdered. Two local policemen, Lieutenant Silva and Officer Lituma, set out to investigate. But they are not glamorous detectives with modern resources at their disposal; they don’t even have a squad car and have to hitch rides on chiken trucks and cajole a local cabdriver to take them out to the scene of the crime.
Not that anyone seems eager for Silva and Lituma to capture Palomino Molero’s killer. But the two policemen persevere, and the slow and haphazard pace of the investigation only serves to intensify the high-pitched narrative tension, as the novel comes to haltingly rest on the very question with which it began.
Who killed Palomino Molero? is an entertaining and brilliantly plotted mystery. It is also serious fiction. Deftly, unobtrusively, the book takes up some of the great themes of all of Vargas Llosa’s novels: guilt and innocence, the impossibility of justice in a society grounded in inequality and the eternally elusive nature of the truth.
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