“To put to death an individual with the sensibility and intelligence to produce an extended literary work, would I strongly aver, be a cruel and uncivilised act.”
As far as I am concerned one of the best things about Book Awards is when they introduce me to something that I would never have otherwise discovered. This is how I feel about “His Bloody Project”. Emanating from Scottish independent publishers, Saraband, this is Burnet’ s second novel. Subtitled “Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae”, Burnet takes us to the crofting community of the Scottish highlands in 1869 where 17 year old Macrae commits three murders. Macrae kept a prison journal and this forms the basis of these documents together with transcripts from the trial, witness statements and reports from contemporary experts in criminal psychology. If this reads like true crime masquerading as fiction then it is testament as to how spot on Burnet’s recreation of Macrae and his environment is.
This is impressive, superbly researched historical fiction with the author bringing in a couple of real life characters in the form of Macrae’s solicitor and the psychologist employed to assess the killer’s sanity. Were Macrae’s actions a result of insanity or was he pushed to act because of a campaign of harassment against his family? Macrae, deemed to be very bright by those who taught him but unable to escape his circumstances is not a totally reliable narrator. There are a couple of very relevant points he omits from his journal which we discover during the trial.
Compared to true crime accounts such as Kate Summerscale’s “The Wicked Boy” the fictional approach obviously allows for added depth in the documentation which makes this a very rich and rewarding read. This is a book which will be strongly competing for my Book Of The Year and will hopefully win over the Man Booker judges much in the same way as it has won me over. There is a potential large audience for this book as it will satisfy historical and crime writing fans and there’s also lots for reading groups to discuss.
Update – Sept 13th – Huge Congratulations to Graeme McRae Burnet for making the shortlist.
His Bloody Project was published by Contraband, an imprint of Saraband in November 2015.