Ever since F.H. Batacan’s award-winning crime novel Smaler and Smaller Circles was published by the University of the Philippines (UP) Press in 2002, it has aroused the interest of some in the Filipino literary community to write in a genre mastered and long dominated by such Western names as Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, and Patricia Cornwell.
The latest to follow Batacan’s lead is Palanca award-winner Maria L.M. Fres-Felix, who launched her newest book, Crimetime: Inspector SJ Tuason Case Files, at National Bookstore in Makati City’s Glorietta mall last month. Several of the country’s most respected writers, led by National Artists for Literature F. Sionil José and Bienvenido Lumbera, attended the event organized by the book’s publisher, Anvil Publishing, and its tireless chief Andrea Pasion-Flores.
It turned out Fres-Felix has long been interested in the genre. During the launch, she said she enjoyed reading Nancy Drew books when she was young, and when she grew older she developed a fascination for mysteries and thrillers.
“Since people say that you have to write the book that you want to read, I wrote crime stories because, precisely, I love reading” them, she added.
Connecting the four stories in Crimetime is, as the full title says, Inspector SJ Tuason. She’s an athletic, chocolate-loving detective who “combines brain and brawn” in solving the cases of “an ex-financier scammer murdered in a public park; a Queen Amidala cosplayer dead dead among the talahib; faceless corpses in abandoned places; a young matinee idol killed in the slums; and the long-unsolved death of her father.”
Fres-Felix described her heroine as having “sandpapery tenderness”—someone who’s caring, but can be very rough. She also described the detective as very loyal and always having “her friends’ interest at heart, although she doesn’t show it.”
Tuason also has a few image-defying interests, it turned out. “She carves elephants. And even if she looks tough, she likes Bon Jovi,” the author said.
As for the stories in Crimetime, Fres-Felix emphasized that she made them up and did not base them on any real-life case, but added that she did the requisite research to make them credible.
“It’s a cominbation of real life and my imagination,” she said.
Asked about her selection of Quezon City—renamed Kyusi—as the setting, Fres-Felix noted that, though it prided itself as the “City of Stars”, there’s “something (about it) that lends very well to fiction.”
The city “is like something shiny…but underneath there is something not so light,” she said.
Fellow writers have expressed admiration for Fres-Felix’s latest literary effort. In his introduction, 2000 Palanca Hall of Fame inductee Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. praised the “sympathetically drawn” Tuason as “a signal contribution not just to Philippine fiction, but to our imagination of our better Filipino selves in a perniciously hostile universe.”
For his part, acclaimed novelist Charlson Ong said “head turner” Tuason “is as tough as they come,” breaking “bones as much as gender barriers.”
Prize-winning short-story writer and editor Angelo R. Lacuesta called Crimetime “breathtaking urban fear and fun,” while National Book Award recipient Joselito D. delos Reyes said it was “a pleasure to read.”
In his foreword, José praised Fres-Felix’s prose as “tight,” her plotting “linear,” her dialogue “terse,” and her eye for detail “keen and exacting.”
With the publication of Crimetime, one hopes that more writers would follow Fres-Felix’s example and pen stories that not only satisfy the demands of the crime genre, but also elevate it.
As crimes, especially violent ones, continue to be committed and reported in the media with alarming frequency, books like Crimetime can give some readers some comfort that, despite tremendous odds, it’s still possible for crimes to be solved, with enough luck and pluck.
Crimetime is available at National Bookstore branches for P395.