Having realized that I’ve been reading too much Gaiman and that I needed to read a book by someone else entirely, I picked up a book that’s been catching my eye for years now. I’d wanted to buy it for some time, then the book disappeared so I forgot about it. Then one day last week it was staring back at me from the bookshelves again. It was a local publication — something I have to get around to reading more often, I know! — and only 150 Pesos.
It was F. H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles.
After reading books set in the US, Europe, sometimes Japan, can I just say that it’s unbelievably refreshing to read a story set in a country I’m actually in? The Philippine setting allowed me to relate to the characters on a more personal level, knowing personally what the country is like, even if the plot revolved around Payatas kids, something I’m not.
The plot was straightforward: 2 priests investigate serial killings of preteen boys near the Payatas dumpsite. Sometimes the NBI helps them, sometimes not. You know how our justice system works.
There were times when the writing got a little pretentious — unnecessary words, foreign language phrases, too many technical terms. It got too a point when it felt like the writer was trying to sound more intelligent than was necessary. The book was smart enough; there was no need to overpower it with flowery words. Overlook this little hiccup, then the book was fine.
The story was told smoothly. Places, events, were described in detail so that you knew what was going on, and where. The characters actually showed character. And there were enough involved to make it feel real enough — a tight little circle of people with character. I felt for the victims; I wanted them to be saved. I felt for the priests; I was on their side, falling in love with their conviction, their determination. I felt for everyone. I felt for the villain even.
Like a good detective novel of sorts, clues were strewn along the pages. If you’re attentive enough, you pick up on the clues before the priests do. But you’re unsure, so you read on. When you learn you’re right, come a few more pages, you heave a sigh of relief and give the detective-priests imaginary pats on the back for figuring it out.
It showed us how our criminal investigations worked. There are the lazy, there are the good who want to do more but can’t. But somehow, the good make it past the lazy. I wish it was like that outside the book, too.
It was a good book. It was a good read. It made me wish we had priest-detectives around here for real to save the to-be-killed from the killers.