His Bloody Project: Graeme Macrae Burnet

This book has been on my #WantToRead pile in my head for quite a while now, so I was delighted when it was chosen as our book to read in the real-time Crime Readers Group I am a part of.


25694617What the blurb says:

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 review:

His Bloody Project is probably a little removed from my normal choice of reading material so it was with trepidation and intrigue that I approached the novel which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016. (Although I was not too nervous as it is published by Saraband and I have a great faith in their publications!)

Seventeen-year-old Roddie Macrae has been arrested for the triple murder of neighbouring crofting family and so from the beginning, we are in no doubt of his guilt. What follows is the presentation of a collection of documents discovered by Graeme Macrae Burnet. The documentation consists of statements, medical reports and Roddie’s own telling of the brutal story. His Bloody Project transported me back in time to the 1800s and I could almost feel myself as a part of the story such was the intensity of the read.

Prejudice and discrimination based on gender and class are key themes uncovered in the book and it was a stark but telling tale of the Highlands in the 1860s. A dark and dreary narrative lays bare the harsh realities of the existence of the lower classes at this time and it paints a clear and realistic landscape providing me with an engrossing and spellbinding read. It is not the fast paced thriller of today’s modern fiction but it certainly ensured that I was hooked from the outset. The violence was almost compelling in its viciousness from the act of the triple murder to Roddy’s memories of the crows waiting to feast on the eyes of a dead sheep, the reader’s feelings are not spared at all. While not overtly graphic the simplicity of the description will send chills to your very core.

While Roddy was not perhaps the most engaging character with his behaviour, there was something about this young man who I connected with on an emotional level and I felt his pain at the injustices he perceived to be served upon his family, the loss of his mother and the lack of any warmth in a household ruled by his father, a religious man, with some extremely nonreligious ways. Roddy’s sense of desolation seeped out of the pages and wound its way into my very being. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was moved to tears throughout the book at the very real persecution meted out to the Highlanders in this period and in particular to young Roddy and his family.

It also provided a fascinating insight into the foundations of Criminology, criminal anthropology and Forensic Psychiatry in that period. I was fascinated by the assessment process of Roddy in prison, based on his physical attributes alongside an assessment of social class amongst the prison population.

His Bloody Project was one of those books that I approached with apprehension but ended as a book that wormed its way under my skin, where it will stay for a very long time. It’s proof that sometimes you really do need to step away from your comfort zone and try something a little different!

The book is available for purchase:


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