Smaller and Smaller Circles

by F. H. Batacan

Thriller, mystery and suspense are closely-related genres that I have always enjoyed; Stieg Larsson, John Grisham and James Patterson are just a few of the contemporary authors whose thrillers I’ve always appreciated. However, I’ve yet to come across a local author who has written crime or mystery – not that I’m any authority on the subject – until Smaller and Smaller Circles came along.

I first heard about Smaller and Smaller Circles when I attended the second Filipino ReaderCon last year, when a panel from another book club facilitated a discussion on it. My curiosity was piqued especially when I heard a few people mention that it was a literary crime novel, but I was only vaguely interested.

And then it became the book club’s pick for the month of May.


So, whodunit? The basic question raised in a crime/mystery/thriller/suspense*** novel, with a smattering of clues in the narrative that will either lead you to the identity of the culprit, or further confound you. Characters will appear whose roles will either lead you to the identity of the culprit, or further confound you, and every small detail you encounter within the plot will either lead you to the identity of the culprit, or further confound you.

It’s that simple and formulaic. It is not advisable to over-analyze.


The protagonists in Smaller and Smaller Circles – the good guys – would actually turn out to be, well, really good guys: two Jesuit priests, Father Gus and Father Jerome, who also happen to be forensic and pathology experts. The baffling and intense task of investigating a series of killings in Payatas – what appears to be the calculated, premeditated work of a serial killer – falls into their holy laps. Of course, they won’t be able to track down the killer without high-tech forensic/laboratory equipment, clues that are luckily strewn their way, waiting to be analyzed, and a lot of psycho-analysis.

Simple and formulaic. Their being Jesuit priests was utilized to romanticize their roles as forensic detectives, but just like a few other seemingly uncommon details interspersed into the narrative, it didn't contribute at all to the general storyline. And the foreign language dialogues were all but annoying - a display of the author's fluency in Italian, German, and French? Suddenly, I am reminded of Mr. Syjuco and his wide, wide vocabulary.

But what I appreciated about this work was its literary style – something quite different from the writing style that I am accustomed to when devouring crime/mystery/thriller/suspense books, something that sets it apart from your typical detective story. The prose actually worked for me; I think Batacan was able to effectively merge lovely prose and formulaic plot, although I am not sure if this has been done before by foreign authors. For this particular local work, though, the effort is well-appreciated.

I also liked that there were short, one-page chapters devoted solely to the killer's innermost thoughts: his feelings, his apprehensions, his fears. Reading them felt like taking a glimpse into the workings of a serial killer's head. So despite its flaws, I thought Smaller and Smaller Circles is a valuable addition to Philippine literature.


So, whodunit? It doesn’t take a genius.

F2F17 at Pages Deli, moderated by Charles (Flipreads), front and center

Book Details: My own, UP Jubilee Student Edition, bought from NBS Shangri-la through Cary (thanks!)
Rating: ★★★


***Lumping together the genres for the sole purpose of writing these notes.


Lynai said…
I am definitely going to read this. I love serial killer stories. :)
Monique said…
LYNAI: I'll send you a copy when I find another one. :)
Peter S. said…
Oh, too bad you didn't like this as much as I did. I mentioned in Angus's same blog entry that I was amused at the novelty that this Filipino novel presented.
Monique said…
PETER: I did appreciate it, perhaps just not enough to give it the perfect five-star rating. ;)

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