His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

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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.

Published 5th November 2015

288 pages

Try It – 3.5 stars

Read from 21st to 24th April

So I have really been enjoying reading historical fiction and after Outlander I took an interest in any Scottish historical fiction I could find.

I originally had heard about this book in passing but it wasn’t until it showed up on a Scottish history GoodReads list that I became interested. I immediately tried to order it at my local library but was unsuccessful as it didn’t have a copy. I walked in a couple of days later and there’s copies sitting on the Scottish authors spotlight and immediately had to have it. It felt like fate.

I really enjoyed this, it showed a really good version of what highland life is like and the problems that come with family names. Roderick is a hard character to like but as he explains his version of events it’s impossible not to feel the same hate that he does. I liked how real it all felt and I know that there have been similar cases to this and the sheer rarity of them. It is a hard read that displays the unfairness of life.

The life his family leads is heart-breaking and the destruction of his family is a hard thing to read about. It was made harder by the particular way it happened and some of the ways that certain memories and scenes were written.

Throughout the whole story you are conflicted about what the justice should be. You are also trying to gauge Roderick’s character, thinking if he is insane, or intelligent, or dim-witted, or just simply naive.

After reading his memoirs we get a different version of some of the events as well as some extra scenes that show another side of his character. Just when you thought that you had your mind made up about what happened and who Roderick really is, it comes into question.

It is a slow and difficult read but definitely one I would recommend. It’s not that long a book in terms of page count but there are no chapter breaks making it feel much longer that it is.

I also think that it was interesting that I read this not long after Code Name Verity and to see the differences but still a memoire nonetheless. I do think that the style and format were so well suited to the story and will definitely wish to check more of Macrae’s work out. He has written about some other interesting topics and I would definitely tell people to keep an eye out for his work

That’s all folks!

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