Book Review: His Bloody Project

“The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae.”

Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, His Bloody Project is a innovative and original crime fiction novel. Seemingly blurring the lines between memoir and novel, Butnet explores the larger political, social and historical themes that underpin a criminal investigation of this type at this particular period in time. What drew me in to this story the most was the novelty of its form. Burnet gives the illusion of this being a true story due to the narrative being presented as a research project conducted by the author’s double. Alas, it is all entirely fictional.

The story revolves around seventeen year old Roderick Macrae, the intelligent son of a crofter born in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands who murders his neighbour and two other villagers without any prior planning to do so. One hundred and fifty years after the murders a researcher unearths a memoir belonging to the Macrae and reproduces it word for word alongside an extract from the prison doctor and an account of the court proceedings reported in the press at the time, in order to establish a likely motive for the murders.

This is a serious story, no doubt, but Burnet also manages to skilfully inject moments of honour throughout. Dr Thomson, the prison doctor’s, memoir is titled “Travels in the Border-Lands of Lunacy” referring to the isolated and thinly-populated parish of Applecross and the village of Culduie where Roderick is from. Also the theatrics of journalism of the times as the court proceedings are reported in the daily newspapers provide some chuckles in an otherwise grim story.

I’m not a massive reader of crime fiction but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It did take me a while to figure out whether it was actually a true story or not, which is a testament to Burnet’s skill in the narrative presentation he chose. This novel is a great introduction to the world of crime fiction if you are as inexperienced as me, but would also be enjoyed by a seasoned reader of this genre.

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