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

Title: Smaller and Smaller Circles
Author: F.H. Batacan
Publication details: 2015 by Soho Press, Inc. (first published in 2002 by UP Press)
Genre: Crime fiction, mystery

Payatas, a 50-acre dump in the 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 anthropologist Father Gus Saenz and his protege, Father Jerome Lucero, take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands.

I think this is my first literary fiction by a Filipino author so I was really excited to read the book. My copy is a mass-market paper back with a movie tie-in cover. It was a short read yet I had a good reading experience.

The plot revolves around Father Saenz and Father Jerome as they help the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) with a serial killer case involving male preteens/teenagers.

Though I got a Bones (the TV series) vibe, I find the plot quite refreshing mainly because of the setting. Serial killing is not commonly heard of/reported in the country, or at least in the mainstream media, so it was interesting to read about the usual crime elements in a Philippine-setting.

Knowing about the places mentioned in the book also helped my reading experience. It helped me picture the events more clearly, and understand them better. The series of events are intriguing enough to propel me to the next page, as if I was solving the case with the characters.

The commentaries about the state/government were also not missed. I especially liked those parts in the book. I couldn't help myself but nod in every points about the Philippines's situation.

Sadly, I find the events leading to the end anti-climactic. However, there are no loose threads, and the events are neatly tied in the end.

I was not able to connect with any of the characters. Their dialogues and interactions seemed unpolished in some scenes. And one particular character development didn't seem realistic for me. However, thankfully no annoying character.

There are two things though that I admired in the characters: 1) the two priests' passion in solving the case, and 2) some NBI's agents/employees' dedication and love not only for the bureau but also for the country.

The narrative is descriptive, so it's easier to picture the events in my mind. There were dragging parts but they were tolerable. The flow isn't as smooth, but it's okay and can be easily followed.

I think non-Filipino readers (or readers not familiar with the Philippines) will have a difficult time grasping the setting since some places were not described in details. Thus, one might want to consult Google for such places.


Overall, Smaller and Smaller Circles is a good read. Some parts need improvement, but I did have an enjoyable reading experience.

Would I read other works of the author? Yes, definitely! If you're looking for an eye-opening, crime novel set in the Philippines, you might want to read Smaller and Smaller Circles.

F.H. Batacan has a degree in Broadcast Communication and a master's degree in Art Studies, both from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She has worked as a policy researcher, broadcast journalist, web designer, and musician, and is currently a journalist based in Singapore. She previously won a prize for her short story "Door 59" in the 1997 Palanca awards, and her work has appeared in local magazines, as well as in the online literary magazine Web del Sol.