His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

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A crime novel shortlisted for the Man Booker? Well, I never. Real crime stories are in fashion right now- if that’s the right word. Serial or Making a Murderer are just the most obvious Netflixy manifestations of this; the trend is in books too.

Maybe that’s not doing His Bloody Project justice though. This is a fictionalised account of real murders in the Highlands of Scotland in 1869. It is a collection of documents, with the main one being a penned narrative by murderer Roddy Macrae as to his own actions, later supposedly sold as a penny dreadful.

He is a young crofter, living a bleak subsistence lifestyle in a remote village in Wester Ross. It is a life of hardship and peat cutting. As he tells us about events in the lead up to the murder, I burnt with injustice as to the very feudal, limited rights of his family and class.

Aside from Roddy’s perspective, the story is told through a collection of documents and sources. Cumulatively they make you think hard about the reporting of crimes, genres of writing, and how we rationalise or justify tragic events. But the newspaper reporting or doctor’s notes ultimately don’t have the same emotional pull as Roddy’s story.

Still, a worthy and bleak tale from an often unseen and untold crag.

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