Reading this book was a new departure for me. For a number of years now, I have made a special effort to read the latest Man Booker winner and as many past winners as possible. This year, I eyeballed a few of the nominees and decided to read one or two before the big decision this October. When ‘His Bloody Project’ became available on NetGalley for review, I snapped at the chance. Apparently though, I am not the only one interested in this gory tale as HBP has easily been the best selling nominee to date.
Of all the Man Bookers that I have read, this was the most readable. Far too often, words like ‘unputdownable’ describe those all engrossing reads that take over our lives and while I did put this book down a couple of times, it is also noteworthy that I managed to finish it in only two or three sittings. Graeme Macrae Burnet must be commended for how he has put this book together. His story of murder and madness in the Scottish Highlands truly flows off the page at an incredible pace. The novel is presented as a series of ‘found’ case files and this makes his story very real. In fact, so convincing is the author’s own introductory preface and other inserted ‘files’ that even now I am still questioning myself as to how much of the subject matter was fact or fiction. As we all know, stories with a hint of truth always seem to capture our imaginations to a greater extent.
The books first half is dominated by the account of Roderick ‘Roddy’ Macrae. From the off it is clear that our main protagonist is somewhat of a social simpleton. Roddy’s voice is used to paint an engrossing picture of life in the small backwater village of Culduie during the 19th Century. He immerses the reader in the life of a crofter, scraping an existence off the land each day before returning to simple homes shared by man and animal alike.
‘…for folk like us there was no other ship than the hard ship.’
We also get a glimpse of the gentlemen class that live nearby in the Big House and who spend their day’s horse riding and hunting. But, it is Roddy’s fellow villager, Lachan Mackenzie, that is the novel’s true villain and throughout Roddy’s account we see how this spiteful neighbour goes out of his way to slyly oppress and harass the Macrae family. This book is unusual in that from early on we know that Roddy commits three bloody murders and it is clear that this oppressor is his main target. What works very well however is that we do not find out until much later who the other two victims are and this excellently adds to the tension of the story. It certainly is unsettling to see how Roddy’s family life slowly unravels from the beginning of his recount right up to the novel’s bloody crescendo.
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