April 16, 2021

His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

This review contains spoilers…

This story was recommended to me by one of the guys at my work.  How we got onto the subject of books I’m not entirely sure but he was so enthusiastic about His Bloody Project that I had to go and investigate.

His Bloody Project consists of series of documents relating to the trial of Roddy (Roderick) Macrae, who was accused of carrying out a brutal murder.  Using witness statements, post mortems, newspaper articles, courtroom transcripts and Roddy’s memoir written during his time in custody it tells his story.

I listened to this one on Audible and I honestly think that this story is best enjoyed as an audiobook.  The narrators on the audible version are fantastic – different accents really make the whole story come alive and I could believe I was listening to Roddy himself.

Set in the tiny crofting village of Culduie (kul-doo-ee), this is a step back in time to 1869 and a history lesson into how crofters and their families lived.  Tiny stone built, thatched cottages with dirt floors shared between mother, father, children, livestock and the occasional old surviving grandparent were called home.  Neighbours were other families of the same class at one end of the village with classes rising the closer you got to ‘The Big House’ and Estate where the Laird (landowner) lived.  With money tight, working the croft a day and night occupation, and under the constant watch of neighbours, the local constable and the Factor of the Estate – life was indeed tough for these people.

Roddy is jailed awaiting trial for the murder of the local constable of the village who holds an intense dislike for the Macrae family.  With his mother having died the previous year in childbirth (the baby surviving and going to live with other family), his father turning into a reclusive drunk and his sister, Jetta, taking on the role of mother to their toddler twin brothers, Roddy finds himself taking on the lonely role of man of the house.

The majority of this book consists of Roddy’s memoir.  As an intelligent young man regardless of his dire circumstances, his school teacher wanted him to return to education with the view to becoming a priest, his story flows really smoothly.  This may be down to the editing carried out by Graeme Macrae Burnet who is listed as author of this book, but, as he says in the preface to the story – he only carried out very minor editing to the grammar.  Roddy moves back and forth in time telling of his life at home, his work at the Big House, his time in prison, and all the events leading up to the murder. By the time I had finished this section of the book I felt utterly devastated for Roddy…

The book then takes a turn as we come onto the court reports and I will say is that my opinion changed somewhat.  Hearing the story from Roddy’s point of view, feeling sorry for him and understanding why he did what he did… I forgot I was only getting one side of the story.  The court proceedings unearth, through witness statements and evidence, that Roddy Macrae was not all he seemed.  Mad, bloodthirsty, driven insane by grief or totally sane we are never quite sure. But I found myself feeling less and less sorry for poor old Roderick.

The story of the murder is brutal.  The trial, post mortem results and witness statements pull no punches and give you every gory detail.  Be warned.  They really are quite horrific.

His Bloody Project was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2016.

The preface to the story is BRILLIANT.  Written and read by the author Graeme Macrae Burnet he talks of how, while undertaking research into his own family tree he discovered the memoir written by Roderick Macrae.  He explains that the memoir was written during Roddy’s time in jail awaiting trial for carrying out 3 gruesome murders.  Macrae Burnet details how he edited Roddy’s memoir, the background to the harrowing story in Culduie, and talks of all the research he undertook into the case that fascinated him.  He hooks you in and won’t let go.

I was astounded when it slowly dawned on me that this book is a work of fiction.  Roderick Macrae never existed.  His memoir is the work of the imagination of Graeme Macrae Burnet.  The man is nothing short of a genius – it’s too believable!

His Bloody Project is a book I will be recommending to anyone and everyone for a very long time.

One thought on “His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

  1. I kinda wish I’d listened to this one on audiobook now! It definitely sounds like it brought the story to life- though I did like reading the book in physical form. I do agree about the murder being especially brutal. Excellent review!

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