This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016. Historical Fiction with a triple murder at its core.
A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? Will he hang for his crime?
Presented as a collection of documents discovered by the author, His Bloody Project opens with a series of police statements taken from the villagers of Culdie, Ross-shire. They offer conflicting impressions of the accused; one interviewee recalls Macrae as a gentle and quiet child, while another details him as evil and wicked. Chief among the papers is Roderick Macrae’s own memoirs, where he outlines the series of events leading up to the murder in eloquent and affectless prose. There follow medical reports, psychological evaluations, a courtroom transcript from the trial, and other documents that throw both Macrae’s motive and his sanity into question. Graeme Macrae Burnet’s multilayered narrative will keep the reader guessing to the very end.
Of all the books nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2016, this one appealed the most to me; Historical Fiction is a genre I would like to read more of, especially when it involves a crime.
One of the things I really liked about this book was the prologue, it set the scene for this book, letting the reader know there will be discrepancies, contradictions and omissions to come. I love when a book presents itself as words on a page and it’s up to the reader to decided what is truth and what is not. It was very clever to present this book as a collection of documents, almost like a case file, it would appear we are given a collection of facts but that is not the case, the argument here is not if Roderick committed the crime but why he committed it.
The book opens with Roderick’s memoir, the longest of the documents, detailing the events that led up to, the committing of, and the aftermath of the crime. After loving the premise set by the prologue, I wasn’t immediately drawn into the book the way I usually am with literary thrillers. Had this book not been on loan from the library, with its due-back date fast approaching, I may not have pushed on with it as vigorously as I did. But I’m so glad I did, as once I got into the story, used to the writing, I ended up really enjoying it, particularly the last document – the trial, as I was eager to know the verdict, would Macrae hang for his crime? Although at times I thought it was a little repetitive – but I suppose repetition is essential when a judge summarises a case for a jury.
Set in the Scottish Highlands, the author did a brilliant job portraying what Scotland was like in 1869 and the use of dialectic really reflected the setting, so much so I had to look up the meaning of certain words, there was a glossary after the memoir but I needed to know as I went along what certain words meant (as a detective, I didn’t want to miss a vital clue). But once I got used to the writing style, I came to appreciate it and how well the author displayed the class system of that period in time.
What’s interesting about this book is, as the reader, you are left to make up your own mind based on the documents you read, but as I closed the book I was still unsure, not of Roderick’s guilt, but of his reasoning behind it. Without giving anything away, there was one odd factor that I just couldn’t let go of and that was the information given in Roderick’s memoir and the information presented in the post-mortem report, there was too grander difference. I was conflicted, based on the memoir, this was a young boy pushed to the extremes by the society he lived in, a young intelligent boy who’s potential would never be fulfilled due to the reality of poverty. But other evidence portrayed a young boy with evil at his core. It’s a sign of a good book, when you finish it but keep thinking about it, not because it left you unfulfilled, but because you’re still thinking about what wasn’t said in the text, as opposed to what was.
You have the memoir of the perpetrator, you have the case documents, you decide?