Smaller And Smaller Circles
Felisa H. Batacan, journalist in Singapore, was one of the guests speaker at the Singapore Writer's Festival. E@L heard her session and she had some great things to offer about women and crime (writing).
But what interested E@L most was what she said about the lives of the poor in the Philippines.
The world of the poor is shrink-wrapped around them. Everything they know or need is in direct contact with them, day and night. There is no world "out there", there is only here and now, getting food for the family meals, ensuring the shelter stays just that. It's all about Manila when you live in Manila.
Also, something else she said was corroborated by E@L chatting with locals. If there is a problem, a crime committed, you don't don't go to the police. That's the last place to take your complaint. They will not care. And Felesia offered two reasons for their lack of interest in investigating.
Either they are genuinely apathetic about the issue or they are complicit.
Scary thought, and the essence of many a thriller plot. But not this one.
Her book, Smaller and Smaller Circles, was only P195 ($US3.60) in Powerbooks. E@L didn't freak out as much as Madame Chiang did the other day in another Manila bookstore, Fully Booked, but was happy to find just this one. Not available outside Manila, except by mail-order from the University of Philippines Press. Sorry valued readers.
A short, quick, thrilling read at 150 pages or so - and E@L read most of it today between patients - pretty well done and deserving of all its prizes in serious-fiction-starved Philippines. E@L had a few gripes about subtleties of style and usage ("elipitical circles" are called "ellipses" where he comes from), and the fact that he wanted to know MORE about the people - the small biographies of the victim's families should have been stretched , they were fascinating glimpes into the lives of the poor. Compared to the bloated formulaic thrillers from the States this was very thin. It would need more (correct) words injected to do well in the States, E@L would think. But the plot, the good-guys, and the hunt for both the person and his motives were themselves gripping.
Plot summary: - Kids are being found horribly mulitated in the rubbish-mountains of Payatas, the cops too slow to pick this up as the work of a serial killer. A Jesuit priest is the top forensic anthropologist around - of course - and he has to fight against media-hungry bureaucrats looking for a quick-fix and the apathy and incompetence of the Manila police. Can he find the psychopath before he kills again and, more relevantly for E@L, will he (the priest, not the killer) get his tooth-ache sorted out?
Not really a fiction some of this, to be sure. Promising. Also much better than E@L could do.
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
This isn't just a Filipino problem. In Phnom Penh the locals sometimes take the law into their own hands because they don't trust the corrupt cops. So the newspapers occasionally have gory photos of (alleged) criminals who have been bashed to death by angry mobs.
Oh, yeah I realize that. It pretty much relates to all of Asia excepting Singapore and Hong Kong in my opinion.
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