Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review of His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Contraband, 2015)

1869. The Macrae’s lot in life has not been good.  Eeking out a living on a croft on the west coast of Scotland the mother died in child-birth leaving the stoic father to bring up four children and the family are being persecuted by a neighbour who is also the local constable.  Roddy Macrae has always been an outsider child, intelligent, but somewhat naïve and often lost in his own world.  He makes poor decisions and bad luck seems to follow him.  He eventually concludes that the only way to help the rest of his family break the cycle of torment they are suffering is to murder the constable. This is he does with calm indifference, also killing two others.  He admits to the crimes and there is no doubt that he is guilty.  However, his court advocate is convinced that Roddy was delusional when he committed the acts and sets out to convince the jury to acquit his client.  He is a lone voice though and the public is baying for justice.

His Bloody Project follows the life and trial of Roddy Macrae, a young man living in abject poverty on the west coast of Scotland whose family is being persecuted.  Macrae admits to murdering the local constable and two of his family members in cold blood.  Burnet tells the story as a factual account as if put together through historical research.  In the first two thirds, the tale is told from the perspective of Roddy Macrae who at the behest of his court advocate writes down his account as to the events leading up to the murder and the act itself.  The last third swaps to an account of the trial gleaned from court documents, various newspaper articles, and a book published by a criminal anthropologist who examined Macrae.  The style throughout is a somewhat dispassionate narrative, with Macrae’s account being rather dry and unemotive, as is the more historical account of the author.  Beyond the dry style there were a couple of things that niggled. The first was the supposed first person account of Roddy Macrae, which is far too mature and polished for a seventeen-year old crofter who left school early, regardless of how intelligent he is. The second was the silence in the Macrae’s narrative and in particular the court proceedings with regards to his sister.  Overall, an interesting but somewhat flat story.


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