Book Review: Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan
The novel Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan is a story about two Jesuit priests, who are also detectives, in pursuit of a serial killer who targets undersized and undernourished boys from the Payatas area.
More than that, it’s an attempt to create an environment that is lacking in this country. There is not a killer as smart as Alex Carlos, police detectives as talented as Father Gus Saenz and Father Jerome Lucero, nor a police workforce as dedicated as in the story’s NBI. The novel also magnifies the urban underbelly, with the garbage dumps, the slums, and the way people live in Payatas as seen in the opening chapter.
Lead by Father Gus Saenz, with the help of his former student and fellow forensic anthropologist Father Jerome Lucero, they track down and try to decipher the mind of a serial killer, who the police department doesn’t believe to be present in the country .
Father Gus Saenz represents the tall, mestizo, and ruggedly handsome priest you hope would not be in front of an altar in your wedding, but beside you instead. He is a product of an affluent, amiable family, is well-educated, and witty.
Father Jerome Lucero is Father Gus’ former student, a forensic anthropologist, and his partner in solving the series of killings. He is much younger, but less likely to withhold his feelings when agitated or irritated.
As partners, the two priests-slash-sleuths try to figure out the goings-on in the serial killer’s mind, how and why he kills the way he does. They delve into the psychological aspect of the case, and they are drawn nearer to the killer by the clues gathered.
Posing as a hindrance, the acting director of the police department is somehow a satire of the attention-seeking, media-loving police figure. He not only takes the case carelessly, but leads the people in the wrong direction just to make himself look good and seem in control of the case.
Alex Carlos is the resident dentist-slash-serial killer in this fast-paced novel. He works in the mobile clinic that provides dental and medical check-ups in the Payatas area. It is there that he is given access to the undersized and undernourished boys he needs to fulfill his sick plan. His anger comes from being molested as a child by his PE teacher Mr. Gorospe. Unable to talk to his parents about the humiliating incident, and incapable of talking to any friends about his trauma, he grows up psychologically impaired and angry.
He kills with cunning precision and every act is symbolic. He defaces his victims, and excises the genitals, signs that there is a sexual conflict and a need to rid off the identity of the kids, much like what happened to Alex Carlos himself.
The Big Circle:
The story opens to Father Emil—a fellow priest and acquaintance to Father Gus and Father Jerome—finding a dead boy’s body dumped in the Payatas. A series of investigation has started, and over six bodies are already found suspiciously patterned to one another.
Although Father Gus and Father Jerome are eager and most likely sure about the crime being done by a serial killer, the lawyer who heads the NBI’s investigating team Atty. Benjamin Arcinas is only focused on looking good before the cameras when he is interviewed about the development of the case. He prioritizes other cases that people can talk about, so he can gain media exposure.
Figuring out the goings-on of a psychologically disturbed killer, especially if he’s very good at hiding it, is fairly difficult. The sleuths go through some complicated twists in their quest to find truth and justice amidst the media-hungry personalities who don’t give much attention to the case.
Unlike most of the major cases that happen in the Philippines, the case is treated with priority and care by Father Gus and Father Jerome, so it is solved in the end. Compared to the real investigations happening in the country, the...
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