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Bookbed reviews: ‘Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Mangkukulam’ by Bernalyn Hapin Sastrillo

BY NICAI DE GUZMAN

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THE STORY

Uno, Junior and Thirdy call themselves the Detective Boys of Masangkay. This group of mystery fanatics has fashioned themselves after the Detective Boys, a group of young detectives in the world of Detective Conan, an anime they love and admire. They build their headquarters in an old police station and they commit themselves to solving petty crimes such as missing pets and clothes of their neighbors.

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They’ve just welcomed a girl, the boyish and smart Me-Ann to their group, when more disturbing things start happening in their town. Chickens get slaughtered and Me-Ann’s brother, the genius Melvin also known as Shino Kid, goes missing. Worse, the townspeople are pining all these crimes on Aling Binang, an old lady who they all believe to be a witch or mangkukulam.

WHAT I LIKED

The story is set in the 90’s at the height of the anime craze among Pinoy children and teens. Filipino 90’s kids will definitely love the references made to animes, games and urban legends. Remember kisses and how we all believed they give “birth” to other kisses? The Detective Boys were all of us and one can’t help feeling nostalgic for the times and adventures spent sans tablets and smartphones.

Detective Conan fans such as myself will also feel giddy at all the references made about the anime. Three boys and a girl is also reminiscent of the actual Detective Boys in the Conan series—Conan, Mitsuhiko, Genta and Ayumi. Of course the author did not pattern the characters exactly to who they were in the anime. The genders of the members may be the same, but Uno, Junior, Thirdy and Me-Ann have their own personalities and back stories.

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The mystery itself is fun to follow, especially since it’s told in the eyes of young people. It’s a similar attack to what the hugely popular Netflix series “Stranger Things” used for its narrative. This group of ragtag tweens’ innocence and unwavering sense of justice amid the discrimination and other crimes happening around them is truly nothing short of admirable. Kind of makes you wish you met kids like these when you were younger. Or that you also formed a Detective Boys chapter with your friends in your own neighborhood.

HOWEVER…

(Spoiler alert! Highlight succeeding text to read.) 

I would have appreciated it more if there was a lengthier introduction to Masangkay and each of the townspeople who were pertinent to the story. Their motives for their actions were revealed towards the end but there were times in the early chapters when they seem a bit confusing. New characters are introduced in succession, especially in scenes where they are all present, and it may feel overwhelming for the reader.

Another cool addition to the book would be the map of Masangkay. Though the town was lengthily described in the book and streets were gradually introduced, but it would have been more awesome if there was a reference map to all the places where parts of the story took place.

tl;dr

Author Bernalyn Hapin Sastrillo claims to be a 90’s kid and that was definitely evident in this book that waxes nostalgic for all things 90’s. What I originally thought to be a young adult book was actually targeting old millennials such as myself, who may want to take a trip down memory lane.

Despite this, the book can still be kid-friendly because of the simple yet exciting mystery and relatable characters. The only question to ask now is if there will be another case for the Detective Boys to solve that will be published in a sequel. I’m sure I’m not the only one crossing her fingers. ☁

Author’s note: I’m a huuuuuge fan of Detective Conan. Correction: I am obsessed with Detective Conan. The reason why I picked up this book during the latest MIBF was because of the title. I didn’t even read the summary at the back. I saw “Detective Boys” right away and I bought it just because. Imagine my delight when it was actually about kids who are also fans of Detective Conan. Of course I remained objective with my review, and I believe that fans such as myself are actually the harsher critics because we hold Detective Conan in such high regard already.

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Detective Boys of Masangkay: Ang Mangkukulam by Bernalyn Hapin Sastrillo will be available in National Bookstores starting November.
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