The Mystery of “Smaller and Smaller Circles” by FH Batacan

Published: August 18, 2015 (hardcover edition); Soho Crime | Amazon | Goodreads

No wonder it won the NBDB National Book Award (2002) and the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature for English Novel, Grand Prize (1999).

Dubbed the first Philippine crime fiction, “Smaller and Smaller Circles” tells us a harrowing tale of murder, revenge, corruption, and beauty and truth amid the filth and lies.

There’s no sugar-coating the fact the Philippines, my dear Pearl of the Orient, is a very corrupt country – made more so by the oligarchy and plutocracy of families in power.

In Patayas, where smoking mountains of trash rise to the sky, young boys are killed. But no one bothers to spend more than a glance at the records, except for a resilient few: two Jesuit priests, Father Gus Saenz and Father Jerome Lucero, the journalist Joanna Bonifacio, NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) Director Lastimosa, and Anding Rustia.

The boys are from impoverished families; the issue isn’t sensationalized. Hardly any of those in the elite are worried. But Father Gus thinks this might be the work of a serial killer, a concept nearly alien to the Filipino community. After all, aren’t serial killers only in the West? Or places with sophisticated medical practices and suave-looking villains?

That’s just one of the many reasons I love “Smaller and Smaller Circles”. It’s not patronizing, nor is it self-aggrandizing in terms of forensic know-how. It’s a novel that seamlessly draws a portrait of the stark disparity between the rich and the poor, the mansions and the slums of nearly every city in the Philippines.

I’ve never been anywhere near Metro Manila, the capital of my own country, because of news of murders, homicides, theft, etc.

There’s politics between positions and turfs among law officers, and even among the clergy of the Church. Fr. Saenz is a forensic anthropologist and Fr. Lucero is a clinical psychologist. Both bring their expertise to the field when Director Lastimosa, a dying breed of good, honest men who truly fulfill their jobs, ask for their help in solving the crime.

Anyone who loves a good mystery and a portrayal of a different kind of life rarely presented on TV should definitely read “Smaller and Smaller Circles.” It’s a great crime fiction novel that I wish would be followed by a series led by Fr. Saenz and his unwavering sense of justice.

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