This novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2016 and, although it didn’t win, the nomination will give the novel oodles of exposure. It’s a historical thriller that is a little difficult to categorize but the author himself has said it’s “a novel about a crime rather than a crime novel” That sounds right. The multiple perspective format allows the reader to almost be the detective; taking in the information and sifting through the often contradictory evidence.
This is not a whodunnit since we learn almost immediately that the protagonist -a youth by the name of Roderick Macrae – had readily admitted to the killing of three people in his Scottish Highland crofting community in 1869. But why? Roddy’s advocate (lawyer) tasks him with writing an account of his life and the circumstances proceeding the murders along with details of the actual killings. The resulting narrative is a grim and gloomy representation of a life saturated with hopelessness where the churchy types embrace providence -” it is the will of God”- sort of thinking. The death of his mother and then the wrath of a bully-man add further darkness to an already bleak existence.
Roddy’s personal narrative accounts for over half of the novel but there are other perspectives to consider. The reader is privy to the court proceedings, newspaper stories, medical and coroner’s report, character assessments, and other cronicles. An expert on lunacy examines Roddy and gives testimony that might have been darkly funny if it hadn’t been so disturbing.
Of course nothing is straight forward…and that is the point, I think. Extenuating circumstances — maybe —maybe not!
I found this to be a fascinating and rewarding novel.
HIS BLOODY PROJECT Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae… by Graeme Macrae Burnet Contraband Publishing (2015) 288 pages