As you’ll undoubtedly know, His Bloody Project has been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize and if it wins when the big announcement is made next week, it will be a well deserved winner in my opinion. I haven’t read any of the other shortlisted novels this year, I have to admit, so can’t really make any comparisons but this is just superb.
I was lucky enough to see Graeme Macrae Burnet at the Portobello Book Festival earlier this month, when he was in conversation with Mary Paulson-Ellis. He explained that the book is completely fictional, despite the fact that he shares part of a surname with his protagonist. Some readers have thought that the book is a fictionalised account of a real murder trial but it isn’t. I can see why they might think that though as the writing has a real authenticity about it. I was also really interested to hear that one of his original ideas had been to write the book in such a way that the reader could choose what order to read the documents within it.
The story of teenage Roderick Macrae is told through these documents. He has, by his own admission, murdered three people and the book contains documents such as his account of the murders written during his time in prison, witness statements, medical reports and trial reports. There is never any doubt that he has carried out the murders, the question is was he insane when he did so.
The memoir is the largest document and the most intriguing. Through the accused’s own words we learn about his life growing up in a remote crofting community in Wester Ross. This gave a really fascinating insight into how hard life was for crofters and the extent to which they were at the mercy of the factor. I knew, of course, about the Highland Clearances and knew that crofting life was never easy. But I didn’t know how little control the crofters had over the land they worked. One of the murder victims, Lachlan Broad, was the constable for the township of Culduie. This meant he was a representative of the factor. The power this gave him went to his head and for some reason he took against Roderick’s family and really abused his power. I could understand, to a certain extent, why Roddy did what he did but not all of it. This made the trial even more interesting to read about as the lawyers and doctors argued about motivation.
His Bloody Project is both a clever thriller and a fascinating insight into a little known period of history. When the author spoke at my local book festival, the event was called Messing with the Mind. I think that’s exactly what he has done here. He makes the reader feel as if they are reading a non-fiction narrative, while never quite knowing if Roddy was a reliable narrator or not. His Bloody Project is a convincing literary crime novel which is quite simply a really terrific read.
His Bloody Project was published by Contraband (an imprint of Saraband Books) on 5th November 2015 I bought my copy from Amazon where the e-book is currently only £3.59. You can order a copy here: His Bloody Project
From the back of the book
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.
Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.