His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Published in 2015 by Contraband
My copy: Library
The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.
This is third book on this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist that I have picked up – and it is the only one of the three that I have actually managed to finish! I often find the books shortlisted for this prize to be on the pretentious and – frankly – unreadable side, but this one was definitely the exception. In fact I found it utterly gripping from page 1 and couldn’t put it down.
Set in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1860s, we know from the very start that Roderick Macrae has been accused of three murders – and he has pleaded guilty to them. But what actually happened – and who were his victims?
This book uses a range of devices to tell the story, including Roderick’s own written account, as well as third party character statements and court reports. The tone doesn’t really change much despite the different sources of information, but this didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the novel.
I found Roderick’s written account of the events leading up to the murders to be fascinating, as we got a real insight into small town life and the hardships of the families living together in the community. He comes across as a likeable and misunderstood young man, which makes his part in the murders seem hard to believe. His account takes the best part of half of the book, and as I say I was totally gripped by this – and I thought it was clever that we only knew the identity of one of the murder victims to begin with.
We then hear various other reports of the murders, including autopsies and the statements of various witnesses during Roderick’s trial. It is here that we start to question Roderick’s account of the murders, and have to look at the possibility of a few potentially unreliable characters…
I found this book really interesting – I loved the Scottish setting and the story kept me gripped. My only slight disappointment was in the ending as what I was expecting to happen didn’t really come to light – but I won’t say more for fear of giving anything away! But overall I thoroughly recommend this novel.