Book Review: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet


This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016. Historical Fiction with a triple murder at its core.

Book Description:

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.

My Thoughts:

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?

This book is available to buy now from: Amazon UK / Book Depository

22 thoughts on “Book Review: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

      1. I’m the same, I’m looking at my review copies and I’m like 🙈 how did it get this bad, not to mention all my own books to read, and I’m picking up my library books that I reserved tomorrow. I got issues haha. On the plus side, His Bloody Project is not that long of a book so it shouldn’t hold up he TBR too much!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have the same problem as you, I can’t stop picking up books at the library especially when I’m getting so many great recommendations from everyone in the blogosphere, then there’s my netgalley shelf that’s haunting me!!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I like the way it sounds like a real case, with the included police reports and witness statements. That’s a format that I really would enjoy reading. I don’t like the fact however that it’s not clear cut if he was evil or really pushed over the edge. Was I wrong feeling for him throughout the story? Hmm, I wanted to read this one but now I’m not so sure anymore. Thanks for your great review though !


    1. Oh no, my review seems to be putting a few people off which was not my plan lol. A verdict is given at the end but due to [intentional] missing info at the beginning, I feel like I want to explore the mind/character of Roderick more. But I understand about wanting a cut and dry story – it’s frustrating to be left wondering but fustrating in a good way 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had pretty much the same reaction as you to this book. Struggled to get into it but ended up loving it. And am still not sure how I feel about the outcome and whether it was the right one.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The way I felt about roderick and how the trial turned out. I was very sympathetic towards him, then the trial turned that on it’s head for me BUT I am not sure it still wasn’t the action of a person who was mentally ill. I just couldn’t decide what I would have done as a juror. Very clever book.

        Liked by 1 person

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