His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet / ★★★★☆
Summary: 17 year old Roddy Macrae commits a terrible triple murder in a remote farming community in Scotland, 1869. A collection of documents presented by the author, consisting of Roddy’s own account, tells his story and brings his sanity – and guilt – into question.
I was struck once again by the absurdity of the situation in which, by virtue of making a murderer of myself, gentlemen now sought out my company.
Genre: Crime/Historical Fiction
This fictional account is depicted as a true crime case, presented by the author in a series of documents. It includes a personal account of the killings by the murderer Roddy Macrae himself, medical documents, psychological analyses, personal testimonies, and a report of his trial, among several other transcripts. I’m tempted to compare this book to In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, not because the stories are particularly similar in themselves, but in their formats: His Bloody Project presents Roddy’s murders and then begs the question, why?
This book poses a mystery: was Roddy Macrae insane when he committed the brutal murder of his father’s enemy? In his personal account, we see the events that lead up to the murder. In extraneous documents, we see that Roddy may have left some key information out. This was my favorite aspect of this novel- while reading Roddy’s account, I was swayed by him, I felt sorry for him, but even while I was reading it, something still seemed off- something was missing.
I expected the personal account to be the most engaging part of this book, but I was surprised to find myself far more engaged in the trial and in the psychological analysis presented after the account. It was really interesting to read psychological analyses with the understanding people had of the mind in the late 19th century.
I will say that I wasn’t very…shocked by this book. It was grisly and terrible, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever read. I expected to be a bit more horrified, which is probably awful, because the events of this book were not tame by any means. But if you’ve read a lot of murders before, crime fiction or psychological thrillers, this book probably won’t shock you, or stump you. I’ve seen this book described as a psychological thriller, but I would definitely argue against the “thriller” aspect. This book was slowly paced, and while it was chilling and creepy, I think the slower pace squandered the tension for me. I think it would be more accurate to say that it was “quietly” chilling. I did love the way the story was presented, and it was really interesting to see how this case was handled in the time period it was set.
Even though this book has a conclusive ending, it does largely leave it up to the reader to decide on the “truth” of the events and the mindset of Roddy, which I liked. I definitely know my opinion.
Roddy is the definition of an unreliable narrator, and I love reading stories told from the point of view of the “bad guy.” I felt sorry for Roddy, and I couldn’t help but find myself on his side at times, even while I was aware that something wasn’t quite right.
I love how, once his account ends, we get to leave his head and a fit into the shoes of an observer, where suddenly everything feels a bit clearer. Still, Roddy’s words linger in your head- which might help his case, or not.
This book had a cast of very iffy characters- all of them very biased in their own ways and very set in their ways of life, influenced by the time period. They angered and frustrated me one moment and had my sympathy the next. I love when a book can make me sympathetic and empathetic toward even the most vile of people- it shakes me up!
I loved the way the author was able to give each part of this book its own distinct style and voice. When reading the legal documents, I really felt like I was reading a work of nonfiction. Most of all, I loved the voice and style with which he wrote Roddy- it was seamless.
Was I satisfied?
I was satisfied with the psychological aspect of this book, especially the historical insight it gave as to how people interpreted the mind in late 19th century Scotland. However, I wasn’t particularly shocked by the events of this book, even though it was quite awful. Books have desensitized me! Overall, an interesting read.