This Book is a part of Man Booker 2016 Longlist Read Series
Graeme Macrae’s choice of subject from his family lineage brings forward some very interesting characteristics of lifestyle and cultural practices from a small Scottish county during the late nineteenth century. Based on some “found” documents related to the triple-murder crime that shook the lives of Culduie Highlands drew the world’s attention towards the trail that led to the death sentence of a Seventeen year-old.
Book #: 30
Title: “His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The book sets out to re-imagine the scenes that led to the murder of a family of three by a Seventeen-year-old Roderick John Macrae (Roddy). One striking aspect of this book is the way it was structured – a three-section writing and order in which the sections were strategically placed.
In traditional crime writing, authors take the advantage of back and forth screenplay with court-room drama as its central premise with the unveiling of crime and leading up circumstances popping up in between. Graeme Macrae employs a linear narration with the sequences unfolding in the order of timelines it occurred. Advantage – you feel pity for Roddy even before you feel hatred for the crimes he committed.
The first section is written in the first person where Roddy himself articulates (or rather writes) his version of the story and the circumstances that led to the homicide. Towards the end of this first section, there is an unprecedented rush as to how the murder unfolded, only leaving the readers to crave for more detail. But, Graeme had it covered.
The second section is an account of J Bruce Thomson, an expert in criminal anthropology, brought in by the advocate of Roddy – Andrew Sinclair to prove that the crime was done in not so much ‘right frame of mind’. The ‘right frame of mind’ is probably the most clichéd defense put forward by the public defenders and it becomes even funnier when the murderer himself confesses for the crime.
This part of the book is an extract from “Travel in the Border-Lands of Lunacy” by J Bruce Thomson.
The third section is the trail that led to the conviction and the death sentence of Roddy. This part of the book has references to various newspapers that covered the trail more intimately during late 1869. The arguments for and against the frame of mind under which Roddy had committed the crimes might not be as engaging as you would expect but it drives the interest due to a completely different perspective of murder brought in by the statement of J Bruce Thomson.
In terms of the underlying incidents, “His Bloody Project” is not much of superior or barbaric in its crimes given the intensity of crimes that we have witnessed over the years. But, the success of this book lies in the backdrop it was set in. A small county in the late 1860s in Scotland where there are very few families, yet struggling to lead happy lives due to anarchism existent in those times.
As long as the book is within the control of Graeme, it is an absolute delight to read. His narration of the cultural and social circumstances of a family struggling to meet its ends and the greedy constable who led to the assault on this family were depicted with brilliant detail. Once the murder happens, you know what would have happened next and it did happen so. There is very little excitement that book offers once the initial story has been unveiled.
There are some instances which describe the situation in that period which is still applicable to the more eastern world even to the present day-
“I offered condolences on her misfortune not to have been blessed with a son”
“my father stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, fiddling with his pipe, unwilling to sit in the presence of his better”
There are many prejudices and blind beliefs that were existent during that period-
“my father thinks it (tea) is only fit for womenfolk”
“crows are an unwelcome sight as they are thought to be an augury of ill fortune”
Overall, “His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet is an absolute winner for its writing as long as it is in his control. But, the supporting documentation drains down the interest created during the first section of the book. Despite its challenges, “His Bloody Project” throws light on some of the intricate and interesting cultural references during the late nineteenth century and the black comedic investigation that led to more questions than answers.
“One man can no more see into the mind of another than he can see inside a stone”