Review: Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

I’ve always wanted to read and support more Filipino authors that’s why when Kate reviewed this a few month’s back, I knew I had to read it. It’s definitely right down my alley, a mystery-crime novel, set in the Philippines. 

Payatas, a 50-acre dump in northeast Manila, is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is stretched thin and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of preteen boys begin to appear in the trash heaps in the rainy summer of 1997, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf – until two Jesuit priests, forensic anthopoligist Father Gus Saenz and this protege, Father Jerome Lucero, take on the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands. 


Things I liked: 

  • On the cover, it says that it has won The Philippine National Book Award, The Carlos Palanca Memorial Award, and The Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award. Definitely great feats which just proves that this book is worth your time.
  • A good book overall. A fresh plot with a familiar setting. It hits close to home which can either affect you positively or negatively.
  • It tackles a lot of issues found in the Philippine society. It talks about corruption – both in religion and politics – which makes the whole book a bit controversial. It also talks about the justice system and how money and fame make the world go round.
  • The characters can all be seen in our society. The author is definitely trying to use the characters to try and depict what’s wrong in our society. Well played if I might say.
  • The way it was written. The author was able to capture my attention that I was able to read it non-stop on a five-hour flight. The dialogues are all well-written. The crime scene descriptions are on point. The characters’ emotions are perfectly captured and explained. It gets your imagination going and for that alone, I love this book. After all, it’s hard to read a crime fiction if it’s not well written for you to imagine it.

Things I disliked: 

  • I definitely didn’t like the idea of priests helping in a crime. They felt out of place (although it’s probably just me). I do understand why they were used. It was just a little difficult to process how a priest could have the time to be the only forensic anthropologist in the country.
  • I also didn’t like how the ending went because of how the police and the priests decided to act. It’s a bit self-serving for the priests. For me, it depicted them as someone who didn’t recognize when their responsibility ended and when the police’s started.
  • Although the plot is good overall, I do not like how it was very straight-forward. It didn’t make me think or wonder who the killer might be because of the giveaways within the book. It’s not my cup of tea but I know some would prefer this.
  • I felt like it was something was lacking on a deeper level. Maybe it’s how the author wants to rock the boat but doesn’t do enough to rock it? I know that the author wrote this book with her frustrations about our country in mind. So maybe what’s lacking or misleading for me is how the story evolved and how the government relied on priests instead of its own people. Is she trying to say we should rely more on priests and on our faith? I’m a little confused with what her stand is knowing about her clear frustrations about the government/society. But that’s just me and my overthinking.

Overall, I liked this book. I liked how it was in a Philippine setting with a lot of familiar characters. If you are familiar with how justice in the Philippines goes, it definitely hits close to home and you won’t be surprised with the striking similarities. I loved how it was well-written and how it made me want to turn the page every single time. It’s in a league of its own and I can’t wait for the movie adaptation.



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