Depicting a crofting community in Applecross and a despicable crime, told through accounts, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s second novel, His Bloody Project, is a wonderfully callous and coarse evocation of a dire Scotland. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016, the Scottish author has been widely read across the breadth of the country with rallied support from publishers and booksellers alike. A fantastic story for the Scottish book trade.
The year is 1869 and a brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish community leads to the arrest of Roderick Macrae. An account written by the perpetrator makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover his motives for these merciless acts of violence. A story about the provisional nature of truth, His Bloody Project is a gripping novel set within the raw landscape of the Highlands, where the exercise of power is arbitrary.
Incorporating the religion and history of the area in a plausible fashion, with clear thorough research, Burnet has impressed the judges with a wonderful telling from several perspectives of a crime committed, leaving the motive question at the crux of the novel. However, the narrative is just as frustrating as it is pleasing, in the sense that you crave a reasonable account of the incident from a rational character.
Set up in some respects as a fictional “real” account, it’s a unique style of storytelling, towing the line successfully when balancing the fiction with the historical. Allowing for many questions to be lingering after the conclusion to the trial is drawn, Burnet’s riveting story leaves a sense of unease in his reader. His convictions of this distasteful environment allude to a constant state of grim misery (particularly for the Macraes) but also attack the church, an important social commentary on the times.
Weaving together the accounts, as the crux of the narrative, the author successfully depicts how one story can vary through differing eyes, and the injustice of the legal system as well as the land-owning hierarchy of those coarse times. A highly accessible read for a Man Booker nominee, it’s been a well-sought novel and the Scottish reading population is no doubt highly anticipating his next work. Experimental in his style, Graeme Macrae Burnet keeps us on our toes as we plough through his work, and no doubt we will be subjected to much of the same with his highly anticipated third novel.