Mini-Reviews: Some Mystery Books

In case you haven't notice with my recent reviews, I am slowly but surely becoming a mystery fan. So here are some more mystery books that I finished this year:

Smaller and Smaller Circles
by F.H. Batacan

This harrowing mystery, winner of the Philippine National Book Award, follows two Catholic priests on the hunt through Manila for a brutal serial killer

Payatas, a 50-acre dump northeast of Manila’s Quezon City, is home to thousands of people who live off of what they can scavenge there. It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city whose law enforcement is already stretched thin, devoid of forensic resources and rife with corruption. So when the eviscerated bodies of preteen boys begin to appear in the dump heaps, there is no one to seek justice on their behalf.

In the rainy summer of 1997, two Jesuit priests take the matter of protecting their flock into their own hands. Father Gus Saenz is a respected forensic anthropologist, one of the few in the Philippines, and has been tapped by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigations as a backup for police efforts. Together with his protégé, Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist, Saenz dedicates himself to tracking down the monster preying on these impoverished boys.

Smaller and Smaller Circles, widely regarded as the first Filipino crime novel, is a poetic masterpiece of literary noir, a sensitive depiction of a time and place, and a fascinating story about the Catholic Church and its place in its devotees’ lives.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre/s: Adult Mystery, crime fiction
Series: Standalone
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication date:  January 2017 (first published 2002)
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback, Movie Tie-In
Purchase link: Amazon | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts:
I bought this book so I can have a paperback to carry around in my bag. It’s supposed to be an “emergency book” for when I was stuck waiting in lines or in traffic. I was just trying to browse the first few pages, but then the few pages became a lot of pages and a lot of pages became ALL of the pages. I finished the whole book unintentionally. So yeah, I gotta buy me another “emergency book”. Accidents happen, sorry not sorry self.

Maybe it’s the familiarity of the setting that hooked me. Back in high school, I often hang out in one of my friend’s house in Litex and I once did a school project involving a visit to Payatas. When I read about these places in the book, it’s as if suddenly, I am back in the bustling chaos of Litex market and the overwhelming stench of Payatas dumpsite.

Not only is the setting recognizable to me but also the state of our country: our poverty and the resilience of our people despite of it, the rampant corruption among the ranks in the government and the weariness of a few good men. The book is set in the 90’s but it’s disheartening that the same social issues are still plaguing our country today.

A serial killer is on the loose. The NBI (our local FBI) is racing against time and lacking their own experts, asked two priests (an anthropologist and a psychologist) to consult in the case. I think that for a foreign reader, the plot may simply resemble a Criminal Minds episode. But to me as a Filipino, I see it as much more than that. I see it as a real story of our people. (P.S. Somehow the film adaptation slipped by me, I hope I get a chance to watch it someday.)

Diversity Watch:
Filipino #ownvoices

by Krysten Ritter

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town's most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote, rural town of just five claustrophobic miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of the question: can you ever outrun your past?

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre/s: Adult Mystery
Series: Standalone
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Publication date:  November 7th 2017
Source/Format: eARC/Netgalley
Purchase link: Amazon | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Thoughts:
Small town girl Abby is now an environmental lawyer in the big city but she has to come back home for an assigned case. Despite a fairly successful career, old insecurities begin to surface as Abby meets her high school tormentors again in the course of her investigation.

I breezed past through this book. Krysten Ritter can surely write, she must have learned a thing or two from playing the character of a private investigator in Jessica Jones. A sidenote: Is it weird that as I read, I picture the main character with Krysten Ritter’s face? Anyways, the plot is a passable mystery. I did not overly like it and I did not find any glaring reasons to hate it either. The protagonist is a hot mess of a heroine beneath her big city career woman facade. I just wished that there’s something more to her character that will appeal to me, either intellectually or emotionally. There’s nothing extraordinary with the story as well. I mean, people died and/or murdered and yet I never strongly felt anything. It’s still recommendable mostly if your looking for a fairly fast mystery read.

Diversity Watch:
Abby Williams – described with long dark hair

Kaycee Mitchell – Abby’s childhood friend turned high school frenemy, described as blond-haired.

Misha Dale – Kaycee’s sidekick, described as blonde and blue eyed.

Cora Allen – a member of Kaycee’s high school clique; described with big, brown eyes

Annie Baum - another member of Kaycee’s high school clique; racially indeterminate

Peter Jennings – Misha’s husband, described as ginger haired.

Brent O’Connell – Abby’s high school crush; described as blue eyed and blond haired

Dave Condor – a dropout just a year ahead of Abby in high school; racially indeterminate

Joseph “Joe” Carter – Abby’s lawyer workmate; explicit in text as a gay black man

Raj – an associate in Abby’s work; no physical description but his name suggests Indian descent.

Lilian McMann – an ex-official of the local Department of Environmental Management interviewed by Abby for the case against Optimal Plastics; she and her daughter, Amy, are described as dark skinned.

Carolina Dawes – a resident whose son,Coop is complaining of rashes. Coop is described with blue eyes and blond hair.

Tatum Klauss – a present day high school teen with scholarship from Optimal Plastics; described with green eyes

Sheriff Kahn – town police; racially indeterminate.

Watch You Burn
by Amanda Searcy

Jenny didn't want to move to the creepy, possibly haunted town with her dad. But the cops are on to her, and the only way she can protect herself is by moving as far away from her hometown as possible and staying out of trouble.

But even after she moves, Jenny still gets the itch. The itch to light a match and then watch it burn.

It's something she hasn't been able to stop, ever since an accident years ago. Now, in a new town, Jenny has the strange feeling that someone is watching her every move. Will her arsonist ways be exposed? Or is the burning truth deep inside her a greater danger?

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genre/s: YA Mystery
Series: Standalone
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication date:  October 23rd 2018
Source/Format: eARC/Netgalley
Purchase link: Amazon | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

My Thoughts:
“Twigs pop and crackle under my feet, like I’m walking on a field of brittle bones.” The opening line of the book has such strong imagery that drew me in. Unfortunately, I still found myself struggling to finish it. The plot is so slow to start. I’m already on the 60% mark when things got interesting. I imagine that other readers might’ve probably DNFed it by then. I quite liked the ending but getting there is too tedious a task.

I don’t mind that Jenny is an unlikable character. My problem is that aside from Jenny, almost all of the broadly drawn characters are weirdly secretive about their past lives. It’s too obvious to me that this was done not to add layers to these supporting characters but only so I am kept in the dark for as long as the plot needs me to be. It’s as if the book didn’t want me to participate in solving the mystery. The result is that yes, the book kept me guessing but no, it wasn’t fun.

Diversity Watch:
Setting: New Mexico, USA

Jenny Breland – yellow haired/blond

Ben – Jenny’s love interest; black hair and brown eyes

Ro – Jenny’s new friend; bleached blond

Kara Johnston – Jenny’s other new friend; green eyes and mousey brown hair

Monica – architect of the motel construction project and new girlfriend of Jenny’s dad; blonde

Mike Vargas – developer of the motel construction project and Ben’s uncle; dark hair, deep brown eyes

Cam Vargas – Mike’s son and Ben’s cousin; gel-slicked black hair

Teresa – Jenny’s homeroom teacher; wild, curly hair

Allen – a wannabe cop who has a crush on Jenny; blue eyes

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I'd love to hear from you!
Tell me the best mystery books you've read this year.
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