Book Review: – His bloody project

‘His bloody project’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet gave rise to a lot of discussion around a variety of topics. The book purports to be a piecing together of contemporaneous documents relating to the trial of Roderick Macrae for a triple murder. We are presented with witness statements, a memoir written by the prisoner and then medical reports and an account of the trial. These are all actually fictional but generally the writing feels authentic to the time and people. The book is set in a remote crofting community Culduie in the Northwest Scotland. Life is hard. The church is severe. The crofters are answerable to the local factor and his representative in the village, who is at the time of the story Lachlan MacKenzie, a man who appears to have a vendetta against the Macrea family.

The central piece of the book is Roddy’s version of events and this is presented as such a straight forward, apparently  credible but detached account that you sometimes have to pull yourself up and remember that it is only his version, and as such maybe unreliable. He comes over as a shy but bright loner. His mother died in childbirth 18 months previously and the family is struggling to cope with life without her. His father is a tyrannical figure who doesn’t relate to his offspring. However within Roddy’s account there are events that are mentioned but then not alluded to further, loose ends that are not followed up in his trial – for example the treatment of his sister by Lachlan Mackenzie.  There are contradictions with other people’s statements – and you are left wondering how much Roddy has misremembered or lied about … but at the end of it all it is difficult not to believe in and feel for him.

Other aspects we discussed included the fatalism about the future displayed by many of the characters (this was fostered by the church but also alluded to by those with ‘the sight’- events could not be changed); the Catch 22 of proving insanity as a defence and the dismissal of those living in poverty based on appearance.