Reading the Philippine’s first crime novel

_20170416_111032.JPGIn February, I went to my friend S.J.’s wedding in the Philippine’s. I loved, loved, loved the Philippine’s – the people, the places, the food.

Like most vacations, it was hard coming back. I think it was even harder coming back because we had been surrounded by so much love and happiness from the wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to a cold, snowy, stark Toronto. In a moment of mourning the end of my vacation, I picked up Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan at the Manila airport.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is often described as the Philippine’s first crime novel. After all, whodunnit detective novels usually hail from cold, rainy Scandinavian countries. But this is actually much more than your classic crime novel. It’s clear that Batacan is using fiction to make a statement about corruption of authorities and how the country’s poor are forgotten.

Batacan’s novel traces the steps two Catholic priest forensic investigators take to find a serial killer is who kills poor slum children and skins off their faces. It’s a bit like the movie Spotlight except both the good guys and the bad guys are priests.

Smaller and Smaller starts off slow but it does eventually hook you. Religion changes the perspective of the investigators and that’s something you won’t find in a Scandinavian detective novel. Batacan also dives deep into the interwoven church and state bureaucracy which is, at times, tedious.

This is a good read and does provide insight into current events in the Philippines such as the rise of Duterte and the conflicted relationship between citizens and a very power church.

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When the Thrill is Gone by Walter Mosely

I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Walter Mosely’s When the Thrill is Gone, the third book in his Leonid McGill series, at the library. This time, private detective Leonid McGill is approached by a local millionaire’s wife, Chrystal Tyler. She claims that her husband is trying to kill her and hires Leonid to protect her. Only the rough and tough Leonid does some digging and discovers she’s not the millionaire’s wife at all.

Similar to Known to Evil, the book before this one, Leonid plays detective without knowing all the details. He’s not sure who his client is. He doesn’t know who to protect and who to go after. He’s not sure who’s his friend and who’s his enemy. Compared to Known to Evil, the details of the case are even blurrier with When the Thrill is Gone. In other words, 90 per  cent of the mystery is figuring out what the case is.

There’s also a lot more mention of Leonid’s father, a socialist revolutionary named Tolstoy. Leonid spends a lot of time remembering his father’s words during troublesome times. But Tolstoy becomes a much more central character in this book despite being long dead. Mosely continues to write comfortably while alternating between soft, heart-touching moments and bloody murder scenes.

While Leonid spends too much time thinking he’s rough and tough, you still route for him every step of the way. When the Thrill is gone is like a Rubik’s cube whereby you spend days twisting and turning but it’s not until the last few minutes that everything comes together.

I found myself re-reading the last couple pages because the everything unfolds so quickly and involves so many characters. But like a good detective novel, it’s not so much about solving the case than it is about how the case is solved.

Photo credits: torontomanblog.comunesomnambule.tumblr.com

Dying to finish Dead Simple by Peter James

I didn’t expect much of Dead Simple. I had never heard of it but it was part of the goody bag I received at the book blogger event that I attended recently. The author, Peter James, is also the director of the movie Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Ralph Fiennes. His Roy Grace series stars a detective by the same name who dabbles in the paranormal by regularly consulting psychics to help with unsolved murder cases.

Which may be a reason why his books are named Dead Simple, Look Good Dead, Not Dead Enough and Too-Dead-Easy-To-Make-Up-These-Unoriginal-Titles. But don’t let the cheesy titles fool you, Dead Simple was a page turner. It’s a fast read and I was dying to get to the end of it.

The story is about a bachelor party gone wrong where the groom ends up trapped in a coffin and buried alive. His prankster friends have all died in a car accident after burying him. If that doesn’t make you want to keep reading, nothing will! Add a beautiful fiancee and a business partner that mysteriously didn’t make it to the bachelor party and you have yourself a good story.

Roy Grace is a Brighton detective with a soft spot for a lot of things – psychics, children and women. If you’ve ever seen the British cop love interest from Bridesmaids, you’ve met Roy Grace. He’s just not very macho but he is very loveable. His British slang confused me in the beginning but you get used to it pretty quickly. The book also ends with a car chase which would have been great on screen but in my opinion, car chases suck in a book.

Especially when you’re dying to figure out if Grace will find the missing groom alive.

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Known to Evil by Walter Mosely

Walter Mosely is is highly praised for a number of things: 1) for being a bad-ass black writer,  2) for writing about horrific crimes and 3) for being one of the best American writers of all time.

I can confirm that all three of these praises are true! Known to Darkness features a black detective named Leonid McGill who straddles the line of legality dangerously. Involved with the deepest, darkest (I’m not referring to skin colour) criminals, Leonid also has friends in the police and enemies everywhere.

Mosely goes where no one dares go by actually talking about being black. Leonid plays into the stereotypes where it’s convenient because people love when their expectations are reconfirmed. Only Leonid uses all his criminal skills (lying, beating and smiling) to save a girl that a mob boss has asked him to protect at all costs. The twist is that Leonid has no idea how this mob boss knows this girl or if he will hurt her. Oh, and he’s also not allowed to speak to the girl.

What makes Mosely an amazing writer is that he can write well about horrific murders, underworld criminals and the every day nuances of life. From describing a mutilated body to how his cheating wife’s lipstick is smudged, Mosely does it with such care and flair. I will definitely read another book in the Leonid McGill series.

Photo credits: etsy.com, voxpopulideco.com