This is a narrative about the chaotic investigation of Palomino Molero. The story takes place in a small town in Peru during the 1950’s. There are two distinct worlds in this novel. The first being the Air Force base a few miles from town where the officers live in clean houses. They come equipped with gardens, swimming pools, and sufficient amounts of food. Then there is the poverty-stricken, hot and humid town where the locals live including Officer Lituma and Lieutenant Silva. Lituma comments when they visit the base that “They really live it up. Like the gringos at the IPC, these lucky bastards live like movie stars behind their fences and screens. ”
A young boy stumbles across the mutilated body of a young man, Palomino Molero. Molero was soldier in the Air Force base miles from the town. He was found with “bruises, cuts, [and] cigarette burns…they’d even tried to castrate him; his testicles hung down to his thigh” (Vargas, p. 3). Officer Lituma witnesses the gruesome murder scene after the young boy runs to town and informs him.
Officer Lituma of the Guardia Civil and his boss, Lieutenant Silva, begin their investigation. Throughout the story, Lituma watches his superior officer with admiration because of his knowledge and experience in criminal investigation, though that does not stop Silva from sharing his feeling about a fat, old lay named Dona Adriana with Lituma. Lituma and Silva discover that Molero enlisted in the Air Force voluntarily and was infatuated with a lady that lived near the base.
This leads Lituma and Silva to question Colonel Mindreau, the commanding officer of the base, but get nothing but hostility and sarcasm. During their questioning, the colonel’s daughter, Alicia is introduced in the novel. Later in the story, Lituma and Silva discover from an old lady in a neighboring town that Alicia and Molero were lovers and left the Air Force base to get married. Alicia finally makes contact with Lituma and Silva and admits that she and Molero did love one another and because of it, Colonel Mindreau ordered Alicia’s ex-boyfriend to kill him.
The investigation concludes with Colonel Mindreau admitting to the murder to Lituma and Silva before committing suicide. Vargas used a great amount of visuals in this book. The atmosphere and setting of every scene was thoroughly described. When Lituma and Silva visit Amotape to speak with Dona Lupe, Vargas describes the town as a place “surrounded by sun-parched sun-parched rocks and scorching sand dunes. There are dry bushes, carob thickets, and here and there a eucalyptus tree–pale green patches that brighten the otherwise monotonous gray of the arid landscape.
The trees bend over, stretch out and twist around to absorb whatever moisture might be in the air; in the distance they look like dancing witches” (Vargas, p. 64). Although the novel is a mere 150 pages, the reader experiences every physical setting as though they were traveling all across town with Lituma and Silva. This helps the reader to become more aware of the situations taking place in the story. Aside to the physical settings, the reader can easily feel the sense of classism. It is obvious that the Air Force is looked upon as superior to the citizens of the small town.
When Lieutenant Dufo makes trouble in the local bordello, no one reacts. He even “unzipped his fly and peed on all the whores, pimps, and customers he could reach” (Vargas, p. 40). The owner of the bordello, Liau admitted that he was “scared shitless of the guy” (Vargas, p. 41) when Lieutenant Silva suggested he take his complaints to Colonel Mindreau. Furthermore, Colonel Mindreau reveals that the people of the town are inferior to him and his officers when he responds to Lieutenant Silva’s accusations saying “These are the families of the officers.
Not the families of the noncoms or airmen. Only the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of officers” (Vargas, p. 34). Who Killed Palomino Molero? is very short story, yet there are many tales compiled in this novel: The question of who did it and why play a significant role, Lieutenant Silva’s intimate fantasies about the Dona Adriana, and her reactions to it, and even a bitter love-story between a colonel’s daughter and one of his enlisted soldiers. All of these stories build up to quite a suspenseful ending.