Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

I feel like this year has been fairly good for the SEA Reading Challenge so far because I’ve read two fantastic books - Track Faults and other Glitches and Smaller and Smaller Circles. I found this while searching for SEA fiction and borrowed it the minute I saw “Pinoy detective fiction” because I love mysteries.

Smaller and Smaller Circles Stars Father Saenz, a Jesuit priest who is also a forensic anthropologist, and Father Jerome. When the mutilated bodies of young boys are found in Payatas, they decide that they have to be part of this investigation and get to the bottom of the matter. In the subplot, Father Saenz is on a crusade to get a child-molesting priest away from the charity that puts him in contact with young boys.

This is so much more than an amazing detective story. I really felt the weight of bureaucracy and corruption as Father Saenz, Father Jerome, and the Director of the NBI try to marshal their resources to achieve justice for the poor that normally get less than nothing. Add in the weight of the subplot (with a man of the Church pushing for justice) and you get a stunning indictment of corruption in both the civil service and the Church.

And this is not a spoiler, but if you read the book, pay attention to chapter 34. It’s my favourite, and in my opinion, the most powerful chapter because it humanises the people of Payatas and shows us that these boys were loved and did have worth - even if the ‘higher ups’ didn’t think they were worth devoting resources to.

The characters were also expertly written - there are the two Fathers, who want the best but also know the worst of the world, Director Lastimosa, who is merely a stop-gap for the real appointee but still tries his best, and Arcinas, the ambitious attorney. They all sprang to life on the page and I find it sad that this is not the start of a series because I would love to see how all of them and the relationships between them continue to change.

I would highly recommend this to everyone who wants a good read. It’s superbly written, with great characters and a plot that will keep you turning. I know this book came out several years ago but I’m still going to hope that a sequel is in the works.

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