CAPTAIN PANTOJA AND THE SPECIAL SERVICE
Plugged in together here are Vargas Llosa's two favorite thematic wires, prostitution and the military; the music that results is of a much lighter variety than the basso profundo of his earlier books. Captain PanteleÃ³n Pantoja is the very model of the perfect officer in the Peruvian Army, circa 1956: he neither smokes, drinks, nor makes illicit whoopee. Who better, so goes the thinking of the brass, to send to a small Amazon outpost where the garrison has been raping every local woman in sight? Captain Pantoja is ordered to devise a system of "specialists" whose job will be to drain off the troops' hots, and in no time there springs up a whole "Special Service" of hookers and pimps, all working for the army and shuttled about by plane and boat to the outreaches and the stray horniness therein. Running around the countryside meanwhile is a rogue evangelist by the name of Brother Francisco who advocates crucifixion as a purifying rite and who acts for the author as a balancing, complementary hysteria to "Pantiland"--Pantoja's roving cat-camp. Vargas Llosa tells the story through dreams, Army bulletins, newspaper stories, and a severely telescoped narrative (". . . enters the Paradise Ice Cream Shop, asks for coffee with milk, hears Captain Pantoja asking him isn't that the professor, the wizard? answers that's him"), but there's a sort of desperation of means here: anything to inflate a rather quiet joke. The quasi-scientific posturings of the modern military mind do come off smartly, but the satire is so local, tailored to such modest dimensions, that this is a book which seems forever to be clearing its throat before trying to involve us once again.