book review – Who Killed Palomino Molero? – Mario Vargas Llosa

“Why couldn’t Alicia Mindreau fall in love with that skinny kid who played the guitar so beautifully and sang with that tender, romantic voice? Why was it impossible for a little white girl to be in love with a little cholo? Why did the colonel see that love as a tortuous conspiracy against him?”

There is something almost knee-jerk about wanting to read a book by a Nobel winner and as an introduction this slimline volume is an ideal start.

In a nutshell a man is killed, but tortured in a fairly brutal way before dying, and two local policeman Lituma and his boss Lieutenant Silva set about solving the case of who murdered Palomino Molero. Set in 1950s Peru this book is as much about racism and class as it is about crime solving and the two policemen come up against barriers throughout their investigation.

The first barrier is the victim’s status as an airman because it means that the investigation has to take place involving the airfield personnel who are determined not to help.

The second barrier is one of racism with the victim being a cholo and looked down on by the white officers at the base. Part of the reason for his death is his racial background not being good enough.

The third barrier is one of understanding. Although Lieutenant Silva is very good at reading people he fails to fully understand the mental illness that Palomino Molero’s girlfriend is suffering from. Her delusional state means that the relationship was probably doomed even before it was ended by murder.

Good books and great writers manage to say a lot of things in a small space without bamboozling the reader with too much information – deep but a light touch. Vargas Llosa shows here that he is able to use a murder story as a way of illustrating several points. Throughout though you want to know how and why the crime was perpetrated and long for justice.

it is perhaps the way that the divided society fails to accept the outcome that highlights more than anything else just how deep the resentments against class groups goes and how even when a crime is solved there can be those who remained unsatisfied.

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