Picks and Pans Review: Who Killed Palomino Molero?

updated 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/15/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Mario Vargas Llosa

Llosa, author of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, resourcefully uses the convention of detective fiction to illuminate a violent culture in this novel. Molero, an enlisted man in the Peruvian Air Force, was a singer much admired by the ladies of the small town near the base. In the dusty hills a goat herder finds his body, marked by unspeakable mutilation, and fetches the town's two policemen. Lieutenant Silva and Officer Lituma begin their investigation. The heat is scorching. Theirs is truly an underdeveloped police department; if they want to go question someone, they have to take the town's only taxi or hitch a ride. Their investigation takes them to the air base run by a despotic colonel. His motherless daughter is spoiled, or is she something more? In a delightful subplot, Lieutenant Silva, swooning with love, doggedly pursues a plump married woman who runs the local cafe. As in other fiction by Llosa, a strong, hallucinatory atmosphere permeates this new novel. Despite an occasionally stiff translation from Llosa's Spanish, the book is original, strange and definitely worth reading. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $14.95)

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