Thursday, August 23, 2012

Going loco over this local detective novel

I keep hearing the fact that there are no serial killers in the Philippines. "It's just not in our nature," my fellow Filipinos would say. But here's the thing: perhaps we just don't have enough data, and people haven't made the connections among the murders to conclude that there are indeed serial killers here in the country. Of course, I would like to believe there aren't any, but I'm open to the idea that I could be wrong.

In F. H. Batacan's novel Smaller and Smaller Circles, the premise is that a serial killer is preying on 12- to 13-year-old boys residing in a notorious dumpsite, and that the killings happen every 1st Saturday of the month. As if the thought isn't chilling enough, the bodies are found with their faces, genitals, and hearts missing. None of the boys though appear to have been sexually abused.

There are some elements in Batacan's work that makes it an unconventional detective novel. The detectives are 2 Jesuit priests, who really are very streetsmart despite having come from upper class families. The dynamic between these two men of the cloth is something we've seen before though. The older one was the former teacher of the younger. One is refined and reserved, and the other a bit brash and outspoken. But their partnership works. Batacan didn't litter her chapters with overboard scenes on how these two different personalities complement one another.

Another thing that makes this unconventional is the setting, which is a locale in a third world country with hardly any high-tech forensic equipment. The novel really becomes centered on the abilities of the two lovable Jesuits, who somehow discover the identity of the killer nowhere near the end of the novel. The last few chapters of Smaller and Smaller Circles deal with the eventual capture of the killer, which I think is a bit anticlimatic. I was hoping for a twist though, something along the lines of the movie 'The Silence of the Lambs', but it wasn't meant to be.

Batacan's award-winning novel was published 10 years ago, and I feel a small tinge of guilt for not having heard of it before. Thank goodness that one of the book clubs featured this short novel last weekend during the ReaderCon. I just had to get a copy after hearing good things about it.

Read this book if:
  1. You like your detective novels unconventional.
  2. You'll read anything that's won a Palanca.
  3. You're a sucker for word-of-mouth publicity.


Tina said...

I read this back in college and I remember being spoiled with the ending because it was another group's book report for Lit class. I still enjoyed reading it even if I knew how it would end. :) I hear FH Batacan is writing a prequel? :D I hope it's true!

Peter S. said...

OMG! A prequel?! I hope that's true!

Anonymous said...

wow, a prequel!

I particularly loved the scene where the mother of one of the victims brought snacks(yung benta niyang bananacue ba yun o maruya?)for the priests as a way of saying thank you. Broke my heart, that one.


Peter S. said...

Yes, heartbreaking indeed!
Now I wonder who you are.

Anonymous said...

Ay, it's me yunayunyan! Sorry that was supposed to say "-flipperyan" but I was typing in a hurry kanina. Great blog by the way; I found it browsing through links in fantaghiro's blog. Will definitely backread more of your reviews later and come back often for more. :)

Peter S. said...

Oh, it's you, Yan!
Nice to see you on the boards. Thanks for the visit.