In 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.
I took a hiatus from reading for fun. It didn’t feel right so I’m glad that’s over. I was studying for this finance test and just couldn’t commit what little free time I had to finishing a novel. I’d look at all the amazing books I had on my shelf and feel a little guilty for neglecting them. And they’d stare back and tempt me. Little bastards.
The first one I picked up again was Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers. I’ve seen this book before but never picked it up because the cover looked boring. Yep, I judged a book by its’ cover. But now that it’s an HBO show, it has newer, dark cover art and I wanted to check it out:
I’m really glad I did because The Leftovers is an amazing read. In the not so distant future, a whopping two per cent of the world’s population disappears. One minute they’re sitting there and the next, POOF, they’re gone. The rest of the world goes into a mourning and most people think it’s something like The Rapture. But there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the people who are “chosen”. Some of them seemed like a**holes. But then what does that mean for those of us left behind?
People try to find meaning in non-conventional ways. They’re joining weird cults, leaving their families and painfully trying to let go of the people who have disappeared. They stop buying all sorts of garbage and going to yoga (Perrotta hates yoga).
Perrotta’s characters are believable, relateable and so very broken. I couldn’t put this one down. The ending won’t satisfy most readers but only adds to the uneasiness of the story.
I can just imagine Seth Grahame-Smith as a child, sitting in bible school, day-dreaming of the wise men battling their way to Egypt. Unholy Night describes the Wise Men’s journey in comic book vernacular — that is, in a series of fight scenes worthy of big speech bubbles with the words, SPLAT, BOOM and POW written in them.
I never learned much about religion (my secular public school had a don’t ask, don’t tell policy about religion) but I imagine Grahame-Smith’s retelling of a classic bible story might be a little blasphemous. The Wise Men are a bunch of criminals led by Balthazar, also known as the Antioch Ghost, a legendary thief hated by King Herod.
When Balthazar escapes from Herod with two other criminals: Melchyor and Gaspar. They escape to Bethlehem with pockets full of stolen frankincense and well, we all know who’s in Bethlehem. In trying to get baby Jesus to Egypt, Balthazar encounters all sorts of supernatural events. I don’t want to give away too many details but Grahame-Smith, who also wrote Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, does an awesome job at putting his own (bloody, gorey) twist on supernatural bible phenomenons (I think these are called miracles).
Unholy Night was a fun and fast read — and you don’t need to know anything about Christianity to appreciate it. I’ve always said that fight scenes and car chases are great for movies and bad in books. But Unholy Night proved me wrong. Grahame-Smith’s detailed description of violence is commendable. After all, the Bible was one violent book.