Scottish author PK Lynch has followed up an award-winning debut “Armadillos” (2016) with this thoughtful, family novel. It commences with the death of family lynchpin Peter Donnelly and the effects this has on those left behind.
Main character Sissy is 17 and adores her Dad. The suddenness of his demise has deprived her without the chance to say goodbye and her attempts to do this her own way are thwarted by her staunch Catholic grandmother, Anne. Sissy’s mother Jude is crumbling without her partner and the rest of the family seem not to know what to do about this.
The first half of this novel carefully and precisely examines the effects of bereavement on the family and it is grandmother Anne, befuddled by the death of the son she idolised, with her own secrets about her marriage and frustration at Jude’s inability to function as well as her need to control potentially wayward teenager Sissy, who comes across as the strongest drawn and most rounded character. The dynamics between the three are strong, felt authentic and kept me involved.
Circumstances take Sissy away from Glasgow and the novel shifts to become a young-girl-surviving-in- London tale which loses some of the depths of the novel as the characters here are not so well-drawn. Sissy, herself, is not terribly likeable and becomes less so once she moves down South. Anne and Jude take more of a back seat and this change of emphasis alters the balance of the novel from something potentially excellent to following along more predictable lines.
Those interested in novels which focus on family and friendship at times of duress would find much to become involved with but I felt a little disappointed that it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the opening chapters.
Wildest Of All was published in September 2017 by Legend Press. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
“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.