Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: Smaller and Smaller Circles

Summary: This harrowing mystery, winner of the Philippine National Book Award, follows two Catholic priests on the hunt through Manila for a brutal serial killer

Payatas, a 50-acre dump northeast of Manila’s Quezon City is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge there. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is already stretched thin, devoid of forensic resources and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of preteen boys begin to appear in the dump heaps, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf.

In the rainy summer of 1997, two Jesuit priests take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands. Father Gus Saenz is a respected forensic anthropologist, one of the few in the Philippines, and has been tapped by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigations as a backup for police efforts. Together with his protégé, Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist, Saenz dedicates himself to tracking down the monster preying on these impoverished boys.

Smaller and Smaller Circles, widely regarded as the first Filipino crime novel, is a poetic masterpiece of literary noir, a sensitive depiction of a time and place, and a fascinating story about the Catholic Church and its place in its devotees’ lives. -- Soho Crime

I was fortunate enough to receive a complementary three month subscription to the Book of the Month Club. October is my final month and I decided to select a book that I had never heard of -- SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES by F.H. Batacan. This mystery won the Philippine National Book Award, and I don't recall ever reading a book that took place in the Philippines. I decided it was worth a shot!

And it most definitely was a worthwhile read. I absolutely devoured SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES, and I was definitely impressed with just about everything about this novel. SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES is about a serial killer who is murdering preteen boys and leaving their mutilated bodies in the dumps outside of Manila's Quezon City. Because the neighborhood is extremely poor and full of corruption, these murders aren't exactly a priority... until two Jesuit priests become involved.

Father Saenz is a forensic anthropologist (in addition to being a priest!) and the National Bureau of Investigations has asked for his help. His protege, Father Lucero who is psychologist, become involved in helping to profile the killer too. Together, these two men work diligently to solve the murders of these young boys even when they find themselves at risk.

SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES was a fantastic read! I loved the characters, the writing, and of course the mystery. In addition, I thought the book brought the Philippines to life and truly gave an insider's look into the problems within this country; and I thought there was a great deal of very smart social commentary in the novel.

One of the best things about this book was the character of Father Gus Saenz. I adored him! He was not only a respected anthropologist, but he was also a Jesuit priest... which made his character extremely interesting. The novel definitely touched upon some of the more controversial aspects of priests in the Philippines including the cover up at high levels for priests accused of molesting children; however, it wasn't at all preachy (if that's what you were wondering.) Rather, his religion gave him a sense of serenity and compassion that was critical to helping him solve the crimes.

I also enjoyed that this novel gave me insight into the conditions in the Philippines. Granted, the story takes place in 1997 so it some of the conditions might have changed in almost 20 years. However, I found it to be so interesting... and so terribly sad. The poverty of the victims' families was gut-wrenching -- these boys scavenged for food for their families in dumps. In addition, I found it incredibly interesting to learn about not only the religious aspects of the country, but also the amount of corruption in the country and the church.

As far as mysteries go, this was definitely a good one. It wasn't a whodunit in the traditional sense of the word. Instead it was more of a police procedural... which I love! I liked that there were a few sections in the story which gave a view into the mind of the killer. These were written in first person and got more and more desperate as the novel went on. I especially appreciated that the book provided so much insight into the serial killer, rather than just making him a flat "bad guy."

SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES was a great mystery. I certainly hope that Ms. Batacan continues to write more of them. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel from the Book of the Month Club.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds outstanding! I'd never heard of it before I saw it on the BofM club site. It sounds like it was a great pick.