Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Who Killed Palomino Molero? - Mario Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa dips his toe into the whodunnit genre.  Obviously it's not as simple as that.  That the bolero singer turned volunteer airman Palomino Molero has been horribly, ritually killed is not in doubt, but even at the end who exactly did it and why is open to question.  And the cops are not exactly Scotland Yard or NYPD - just two unexceptional flatfoots from the local Guardia Civil in the rural middle of nowhere, which in Peru in the 1950s is pretty remote.

Why the 1950s?  I suspect the core of what is actually a novella was written back in the 50s, then rescued from the bottom drawer when Llosa got famous and heavily reworked.  I say reworked because all of the mature techniques are there: the elegant elision between past and present, memory and reality; the politics that underpin everyday life, even this far out in the backwoods; class prejudice; and, of course, the exploration of complex characters.  What, for example, is Alicia Mindreau's true state of mind?

Given the slim format, which feels just right for the subject, there is just one subplot - the comic infatuation of Lieutenant Silva for his Amazonian chubby Dona Adriana.  And the outcome of that is just as unexpected as the outcome of the main mystery.

Because it is very much centred in the landscape, there is far more description than in citybound Llosa novels.  I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of the ocean and the blazing hot desert.  Only in Peru...

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