What makes a great crime fiction novel? Is it the suspense, details, and the mystery at its core? Being a lover of the genre, I was ecstatic when I heard about a book called Smaller and Smaller Circles, which included a serial killer, Jesuit priests, forensic anthropologist, all intertwined with Filipino culture!

Smaller and Smaller Circles is widely known as the first ever Filipino crime novel written. Different versions were published over the years to cater to adults, while also for students and populations the world over. I was able to get my hands on the abridged version of it, but was able to experience the full story, deep characterization, and twists nonetheless.

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Smaller and Smaller Circles Synopsis

We are powerless while we wait for other people to act in our behalf.


Smaller and Smaller Circles begins with horrifying descriptions of a young boy eviscerated, which was witnessed by children in the dump site in Payatas. This incident was suspected to have been the work of a serial killer, however this type of crime crime was not entirely accepted and was often denied in Filipino culture.

Now, it is up to a renowned Jesuit priest and forensic anthropologist Father Gus Saenz and his protégé, Father Jerome Lucero to carry out an intensive investigation and seek justice for the victims.

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The novel was set in the tropical country of the Philippines and showcased various aspects of familial and religious values and traditions.

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The Investigators

Once in a while, there’s a chance to do more. And you take it.

Due to the lack of manpower, the Director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) seeks the help of two skilled Jesuit priest to step in as unofficial sleuths. Weeks later, Father Gus Saenz begins working on the case with Father Jerome Lucero.

These priests are later joined by Joanna Bonifacio, a former student of Father Saenz who has become a fierce crime reporter. Her addition to the group adds an additional element of investigative knowledge.

It takes a lot of time to gather valuable information given the procedural restrictions, which result in the slow progression of the investigation.

Eventually, they discover a ritualistic pattern among the victims. Their facial skin is completely peeled off, their internal organs neatly carved out and their body are mutilated, leaving the bodies unrecognizable.

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This novel reflects how slow justice can be served for poorer communities compared to the more elite. It criticizes the inequality and injustices experienced by powerless individuals.

The Killer

I can feel so many eyes
watching me

What comes to your mind when you read the word circles? Aside from the perspectives of the investigators in Smaller and Smaller Circles, Batacan also tells the story of the killer in a first person point of view.

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This ingenious narrative gives way to a glimpse of unexplained thoughts that pass through the mind of a killer. At first, it is not certain who exactly the narrator of their chapters is. The more I read, the more the story became vivid and before I knew it, hours had passed and I found myself completely submerged in the story, unable to put it down.

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The backstory crafted for this character was both unexpected and petrifying. I didn’t anticipate this deep exploration of paranoia and anxiety. This unique perspective was the best part of the novel. It didn’t exactly romanticize the idea of killing, but it provided depth to a character and added nuance to the story as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Smaller and Smaller Circles is more than realistic crime fiction. The plot may be simple but the execution of the investigation was logical and immersive. The overall atmosphere was gradual and let readers think for themselves along with the characters. As a mystery lover, it makes for an immersive and exciting reading experience for all.

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  • Realistic investigative process
  • Page-turner
  • Concise and vivid storytelling
  • Additional perspectives


  • Frequent use of technical terms

Final Verdict

F.H. Batacan wrote Smaller and Smaller Circles, a daring crime fiction that will be hard to beat. I can't wait to read more stories like this set in the Philippines.