leasure aside, there are a number of good reasons serious writers turn to genres - science fiction, espionage thrillers, detective stories. The genres provide the security and the challenge of classical forms; both the sonnet and the whodunit pre-exist in some Platonic realm as an ideal design. The genres also make the writer tell a story. And at some point in the early 20th century, good writing and good stories went their separate ways. Proust writes great pages but gives the reader no incentive to turn the page, whereas the good storytellers make you turn the page to find out what happens next, and to get away from the writing you just read.
The genres now seem to mirror the new world we live in. Technology is creating ethical dilemmas (Baby M) that are science fiction come to life; the recent sex-and-espionage scandal at the United States Embassy in Moscow could have appeared first in any fat thriller in the airport newsstand rack; and murder is as fresh as today's paper. It is also as old as the Bible, where God, the first detective, questioned Cain.
Now Mario Vargas Llosa, whose books include ''The War of the End of the World'' and ''The Perpetual Orgy,'' a study of Flaubert, has tried his hand at detective fiction. That hand proves very deft. Evoking landscape and mores in writing that is spare, rich and cruelly beautiful, he both satisfies the requirements of the genre and demonstrates that it too can resonate like any other form of fiction. Moving at a slow pace that only heightens the tension, the novel manages to meditate on evil, art, love and race while going about its business of solving a crime, all in the span of 150 pages. Alfred Mac Adam's able translation helps to cast the spell, stumbling only on a certain kind of macho talk.
The crime is the torture and murder of Palomino Molero, ''a skinny kid who sang boleros.'' The time is the 50's, the place the sticks of Peru, where the local brothel is chased from one end of town to the other by the priest, where movies are shown outdoors against the side of the church, and where the local police do not even have a vehicle of their own and must hitch rides on chicken trucks. The investigators are Lieutenant Silva and his young assistant, Lituma. Silva is a master of interrogation, adapting his techniques to his subject; sometimes his approach is almost sadistic in its meanderings, at other times it combines ''infinite respect with extraordinary politeness.'' Lituma is eager to learn, impressionable, given to sentiment and imagination. Though the narrator is omniscient, it is only Lituma's thoughts and fantasies that are ever entered, as, in pursuit of the guilty, his innocence is lost.
The victim's own life points the detectives to those who may have taken it. Exempt from the draft, Molero had enlisted anyway. It was love that drove him, the sort of love that is only sung of in songs, an ''impossible love,'' one that broke through the barriers of skin color and class, itself a violent act. Admiring Molero for having known a great love, the kind everyone desires and no one believes in, Lituma sadly reflects that he has probably spent too much time in the local brothel to be capable of such high emotion.
Silva, meanwhile, is caught in a double obsession: to solve the murder and to sleep with the Rubenesque wife of a local fisherman. The atmosphere is constantly charged with a lazy, dangerous sexuality. Mating donkeys bray as the two detectives question an old woman at whose inn Molero had stayed with Alicia Mindreau, a colonel's daughter -the woman he loved and died for.
We now learn that there were four players in the drama, the victim and the three suspects:
Colonel Mindreau, a martinet for whom racism is not a moral flaw but a self-evident fact; Alicia, a brat in her late teens, a snob whose nose seems to ''grade people according to their smell,'' but who is also entrancing and possibly mad; and Ricardo Dufo, an officer in love with Alicia, the type of weak male for whom jealousy is inevitably the dominant emotion.
The crime is solved. Or is it? Every clean line that Mr. Vargas Llosa draws he then immediately smudges into ambiguities. Not murky, but all too vivid, these are the ambiguities of reality itself, of which passion and evil are prime elements. The lesson of this book is the same one Silva teaches to the ever-curious Lituma: ''The truths that seem most truthful, if you look at them from all sides, if you look at them close up, turn out either to be half truths or lies.''
Mr. Vargas Llosa uses the detective plot to demonstrate that our concepts of law and justice, symbolized by the solution of crime, do not take sufficient stock of the true nature of evil. Evil is so blinding in its power, so deranging in its derangement, that the book's title and point of departure - ''Who Killed Palomino Molero?'' - is also the point on which the story comes to rest after its terrible journey.
Richard Lourie's novel ''First Loyalty'' has just appeared in paperback.
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Сьюзан знала, что «остальное» - это штурмовая группа АНБ, которая, перерезав электрические провода, ворвется в дом с автоматами, заряженными резиновыми пулями. Члены группы будут уверены, что производят облаву на наркодельцов. Стратмор, несомненно, постарается проверить все лично и найти пароль из шестидесяти четырех знаков. Затем он его уничтожит, и «Цифровая крепость» навсегда исчезнет из Интернета.
- Действуй своим маячком очень осторожно, - сказал Стратмор.