Eagle-eyed readers will notice the impressive list of names that adorn Crimetime, Maria LM Fres-Felix’s new crime anthology. On the cover is a blurb by award-winning crime author Charlson Ong. At the back is another blurb by award-winning fictionist Butch Dalisay. Inside are more praises by writers Sarge Lacuesta, Joel Pablo Salud, and Joselito D. Delos Reyes. There’s a glowing preface by National Artist F. Sionil Jose.
It’s a star-studded introduction to Felix’s anthology, but if its purpose is to entice reluctant buyers, it doesn’t need it. Crimetime is a compelling series of mysteries that will keep you guessing, set in Quezon City and starring Inspector SJ Tuason. As someone with a diminishing attention span, I was able to finish this book in a few days.
The stories are diverse: there’s an ex-financial scammer who is discovered stabbed in a public park (“Photobomber”), a Star Wars cosplayer found strangled to death (“Scar Wars”), faceless corpses rotting in abandoned places (“Bruised”), and a young heartthrob lying dead in the slums (“A Death in Looban“). Throughout the anthology, Tuason must deal with bureaucracy, the patriarchy, outdated equipment, and the unsolved murder of her father.
The stories are inventive, with enough twists and turns to get the reader guessing who the perpetrators are. I enjoy crime fiction and love analyzing details so this was a great exercise for my “little grey cells,” as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot would say. My favorite story would be “Scar Wars,” about a young woman found dead in a Queen Amidala costume. Her depiction is unique: she is described by officemates as an “angel,” while one would state otherwise. It’s a great example of a line Felix wrote in “Photobomber”: ‘They knew that victims, even the nasty ones, were usually described more fondly in death.’
Another thing I like about Crimetime is the level of detail. It provides enough red herrings to confuse even the most suspicious reader. I had to stop every now and then to evaluate and study the characters’ motivations for murder.
However, the most significant thing about the anthology is the self-awareness. It’s obvious that Felix is trying to paint the local police force as heroes, but she isn’t putting them on a pedestal. Felix isn’t afraid to write about the flawed justice system: Tuason being passed on for promotions despite doing a great job, the low budget, and the way rich suspects can get away with murder. There are little things, too, like how police would ask gasoline money from the victim’s relatives to see progress.
The level of research isn’t surprising for someone like Felix. The US-educated economist turned fiction writer has won Palanca Awards, Philippine Free Press Awards, and the Pilar Perez Medallion for Teen Writing. She has previously written Sup?, Making Straight Circles, and Boy in the Platinum Palace. For her last book, she was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Given the bleak tone in Crimetime, there is a touch of optimism. Tuason may be brash, but she’s passionate about her job. Her partner Joshua Rios said it best: “Maybe we just have to keep on believing in what we’re doing, and do it well.”
This post is in partnership with Anvil Publishing. Crimetime is available at National Book Store and Powerbooks branches. You may also buy the book online on Anvil’s website.