With its command of logic, suspense, and contemporary Filipino elements, FH Batacan's Smaller and Smaller Circles is definitely worth the accolades and awards heaped upon it. This winner of the 1999 Palanca Grand Prize and 2002 National Book Award is a well-crafted Pinoy version of CSI, with two Jesuit priests investigating the grisly deaths of adolescent boys in Payatas. Their investigation convinces them that this is the work of a serial killer, one given to removing the hearts and genitals of his young victims and peeling their faces off. Lacking a team and proper resources, the priests (Fr. Gus Saenz is a forensic anthropologist while Fr. Jerome Lucero is a clinical psychologist) must rely on their instincts and their intelligence--as in real life, it's challenging to work with local law enforcement--to catch this troubled murderer.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ms Batacan's carefully-plotted narrative. Carefully interspersed between the chapters are the killer's thoughts, the increasing panic and mania of the hidden self. Foreshadowing is done with subtlety but an avid mystery reader's Spidey senses would be set off by a fair number of them. What works even more for me is how Ms Batacan included the point-of-view of the different people around the Jesuits, from the NBI's investigative team head to the gutsy crime reporter who knows how to go after a story to the stricken victim's families. By not shying away from revealing the injustices committed by an imperfect system, she manages to depict tragedy with an almost journalistic stance, but one that is not devoid of the Filipino's penchant for emotion.
The blurb at the back of the book lauds it for being both 'popular' and 'literary', and I couldn't agree more. Smaller and Smaller Circles is an evocative and sharply-written novel that paves the way for similar intelligent crime stories from Filipinos.
NOTE: This review is done in response to the Whodunit Reading Challenge hosted by Mary, Myra, and Fats at Gathering Books. I'm hoping to reach the Mythic Crime Buster Level (6-8 books); one mystery novel per month (it runs from January to June) definitely sounds like a comfortable pace for me.