As the last surviving son of a widow, Palomino Molero was exempt from military service. Indeed, Molero was not a fighter, he was a musician: He played the guitar and sang boleros to the young women in Talara, a small Peruvian town. Yet he enlisted in the Air Force. Officer Lituma and Lieutenant Silva of the Guardia Civil, investigating the brutal torture murder of Molero, soon discover that the young Cholo enlisted in order to be near the military base--and to be close to someone for whom he felt a hopeless love.
The major players in the murder soon present themselves, almost of their own accord, to the brilliant Silva, who has vowed not to die until he has solved the crime and conquered the woman of his dreams, Dona Adriana, an overweight, married temptress who spurns his advances. The major characters emerge in sharp relief yet remain elusive and ambiguous: Richard Dufo, cruel, suffering, courting death; Colonel Mindreau, powerful and haughty, yet strangely at the mercy of his beautiful, emotionless daughter, Alicia; and Alicia herself, who shares a bitter secret with her father. Finally, there is Molero himself, a clumsy Orpheus who reaches too high in Peru’s rigidly stratified society and is punished for his hubris.
Mario Vargas Llosa’s haunting novel presents the reader with an impenetrable mystery about the human soul, about guilt, and about innocence, challenging him to perform the painful task of pitying the cruel, judging the victim, and perhaps forgiving them both.