His Bloody Project by author Graeme Macrae Burnet recounts the story of the triple murder and subsequent trial of accused 17 year old crofter Roderick McRae, who brutally slays three people in his remote village in 1896.
Roderick lives with his family in a tiny croft on a property and land owned by the laird. His Bloody Project involves a recollections of the murders using historical documents, including Roderick’s own memoirs, along with court transcripts, medical reports, police statements and newspaper articles. Each document slowly and compellingly reveals Roderick’s guilt and his confounding intelligence and that there is far more to the triple murder than meets the eye.
The apparently innocent and guileless 17 year old Roderick is at times portrayed as an innocent party to complex power politics in the village, including the appointment of a ruthless and cruel local constable who makes the McRae family’s lives a living hell. Roderick by going on a killing spree is merely acting out the frustrations of his father, who had been subjected to ongoing humiliating treatment at the hands of the constable.
The sanity or otherwise, intelligence or otherwise of Roderick is debated extensively throughout the novel. The pace, language and compelling power politics of the novel are engrossing. I found myself treasuring every last drop of this novel and reading all of it in one sitting.
This may or may not be a result of my personal penchant for Scottish literature and Scottish history in general – having lived there for numerous years and falling in love with the Highlands.
However there’s a lot of layers to this onion of a novel, with class and moral politics being main themes that sit uncomfortably alongside the brutal and viscerally described murders. His Bloody Project was an outlier for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and in my book it deserved to win the big prize.
This is an ideal novel to curl up with alongside a bottle of red wine on one of these stormy southern hemisphere Winter evenings we’re having right now. You will be stunned by the depth of character plumbed in this novel using disparate historical document devices and also overwhelmingly glad that you live in a modern, prosperous, non-fuedal society that isn’t based on lairdship.