by Mario Vargas Llosa
When three people mysteriously up and disappear from a remote mining town in Peru's central highlands at the height of the Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path] Maoist terrorist campaign of the 1980s, it suddenly dawns on Captain Lituma and his wet behind the ears assistant Tomás Carreño that they themselves are sitting ducks in the abandoned Guardia Civil outpost on the edge of the town where, in the midst of being shunned as outsiders by the predominantly Quechua-speaking locals, they realize that their suicide mission of an investigation likely won't amount to much: "Le voy a decir una cosa" ["I'm going to tell you something"], says the younger guardia civil member, usually the more optimistic one of the two. "Usted y yo no saldremos vivos de aquí. Nos tienen cercados, para qué engañarnos" ["You and I won't come out of here alive. They have us surrounded, why kid ourselves?"] (18). With this as his resigned, claustrophobic starting point, future Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa dips into his usual storytelling bag of tricks--artfully nested plotlines, "interlacing dialogues" masterfully juggling flashbacks, asynchronous time and narratorial POV--in the service of a moody, shadowy thriller unfortunately marred by a somewhat farfetched ending. Those ten pages or so aside, I really enjoyed this evocation of a no future Peru--available in English as Death in the Andes--and would happily recommend it as a bleak page-turner just as long as you've already read all of Vargas Llosa's crucial 1960s novels and his equally primo 1981 La guerra del fin del mundo [The War of the End of the World]. If not, what are you waiting for, rookie?
Mario Vargas Llosa