My Thoughts About Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan (Book Review #51)

This book follows the story of two Jesuit priest who also performs forensic work, Gus Saenz and Jerome Lucero.


The book is often tagged as the first Filipino detective novel. It was published in 2002 by the University of the Philippines Press. It won the Carlos Palanca Grand Prize for the English Novel in 1999 and also the National Book Award in 2002.

The main plot of the book is on how the two main protagonist are in pursuit of a serial killer who targets pre-teen boys from slump areas who not just kill them but also remove the skin of their faces, their internal organs and their genitals. We then follow the two as they tried to get inside the mind of the killer, tracking him, looking for clues and waiting for his next move.

Father Lucero is a forensic anthropologist who’s a former student of Father Saenz. Both, they were frequently ask by the authorities in solving cases that involves their expertise. They were of big help to each other as each has their own means of solving puzzle-like crimes. During their pursuits, the two priests got aid from Joanna Bonifacio, a TV producer and host who’s a total bad*ss. I liked her character. I liked her back story which reminds me of Alexandra Trese of the Trese comics series. The relationship between the two main characters are marked by humor and at time touching. The author was able to establish a good father and son like relationship between the two that is very pronounced. Joanna’s character became the balancing act.

Alex Carlos, the antagonist of the story, has a dark past. He’s a dentist who uses his profession to hide his wrongdoings. Growing up from a poor family made him powerless from the abuse that he got growing up. He had no one to talk talk about the sexual abuse that he had experience when he was in grade school making him psychologically unstable. He believes that what’s he’s doing would erase the past that happened to him. I like how the author was able to weave his story in a way that it is believable and not far fetched.

The story begins after the sixth body was found. The same location, the dump site, and the body, the same condition. A series of investigation has started but the killer has become so elusive to catch. The two believes that the series of events are being done by a serial killer on the loose. Convincing the authorities about what they believe is hard as no one takes them seriously. The authorities believes that a serial killer won’t thrive in the Philippine setting and that there are more other important cases to focused upon. The authorities then caught a suspect. Believing that the case was already resolved, they were all shocked when a another body of a boy was found. The seventh.

I like how the author gives it’s readers a peak into the mind of the killer. At the start of each chapter, simple monologues of the killer which are haunting are presented which added to the excitement and creepiness to the book. I like how the author gives it’s readers two sides of the story. It really gives edge-of-your-seat scenes.

The author did not disappoint me with my expectation. I like that Filipino authors are now branching out to genres that others didn’t dare to touch, which is the mystery/crime genre. I am glad that it worked. I liked that, I was taken deep into the novel, the surroundings that the author is describing is familiar to me. The author is very detailed with his descriptions of the scenes which the author uses as a way to fully immerse the readers to the book. Its depiction of the characters and the setting felt so real. It gave a very good portrait of the country with its harsh but true realities. We have the poverty stricken areas and corrupt officials as the backdrop of the book.

The book is fast paced and totally immersing and true enough to its title it moves inward (smaller and smaller circles) as the main characters slowly but surely take down the killer. It is simply written but elegantly done. Short but fulfilling.

The only criticism that I have with the book is with it’s usage of Latin, French and German phrases without any translations. It’s just distracting sometimes, especially for someone who doesn’t understand any of it. Some of it even last for a page and I skip those. I would have appreciated if there are footnotes. But nevertheless, that won’t affect the quality of this book. Because I totally enjoyed this book. I really really really hope that there would be a sequel! 🙂

5 stars out of 5.


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