His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

imageA brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? Will he hang for his crime?

After reading some great things about His Bloody Project I couldn’t resist picking it up when I saw it at the library.  Then I started reading it and wondered if I had made a mistake.  I struggled with the first thirty or so pages and was close to deciding it wasn’t the book for me.  Thankfully, something clicked before I gave up because this is a really good book and I really enjoyed it.

It starts with the author saying that this is the story of a relative of his, a young man convicted of murder named Roderick Macrae. Discovered in an archive and long forgotten, the author has found a handwritten record of the events leading up to the murder and the murder itself.  It is written by Roderick himself and, for a young crofter with limited education, shows an articulate and intelligent young man very aware of what has happened.

For me, as a reader, it also showed a young man pushed to the limits by bullying neighbours and the strict social structures in which he was living.  Roderick is also a boy who is suffering grief from the loss of his mother, regularly beaten by his god-fearing father, and trying to figure out how to become a man, including falling in love.  I felt very sympathetic to him and his situation and Burnet does a wonderful and realistic job painting this picture through Roderick’s words.

Then things start to change.  Following Roderick’s written statement there are autopsy reports, which paint a grisly picture; a paper and evidence from an expert who specialises in the criminally insane and isn’t convinced Roderick is telling the truth about his motives; and then a description of the trial itself, with neighbours giving testimony of a young man who was never “quite right” but who seemed completely calm and in control on the day of the murders.  All start to present a different version of events than those told by Roderick.

And as a reader, I then started to wonder.  Was he the victim he had led me to believe – in which case he was much smarter than his neighbours or the experts believe – or was he mentally ill with no real control over his actions?  It’s a difficult question to answer and I’m not sure I know how I feel now the book is finished.

I do know that I am really impressed with the book, after my initial reservations, how it presented the story, how it gave an insight into how mental illness was perceived and dealt with at the time, and how it developed the characters.  Burnet is a really good writer who completely drew me in.     As a result, I have to say I loved this book and would very much recommend it.



  1. This is on my To-Read list but based on your review, I think it needs to come up the priority list!

    1. Oh I do hope you like it. I felt very happy to have read this one.

  2. This sounds a bit different and interesting.

    1. It was but not so different I couldn’t get my head around it – which can happen with historical fiction of any kind for me.

  3. Some books take a bit of perseverence, don’t they? Glad this one came together for you in the end:).

    1. They do. I am really ad too. It was so worth it!

  4. Intriguing! I love when a book that just doesn’t quite work suddenly clicks and becomes compelling. This sounds like an interesting read, a bit thriller and insightful as well. Adding to my TBR!

    1. It is good isn’t it. And I feel very relieved. I had heard such good things and then felt bad that I wasn’t enjoying it.

  5. Now you have piqued my curiosity! Thanks for sharing.

    1. It is an intriguing book. Different but not so different you feel like you can’t relate.

  6. I’m glad you kept going on this one – I wasn’t sure at first either and even though I read it a couple of months back, I’m still pondering on where the truth lies – If I had more time I would readily pick this one up again!

    1. I think that is what I really liked that I was so skilfully led down one path to have it all thrown up in the air again. I ended up not knowing what to think.

  7. Your review has really peaked my interest! I seriously love that cover too. What a great idea for a story. Glad to hear you really liked it.

    1. It’s an interesting book and definitely different.

  8. This sounds like the kind of book that is deeper than the surface level of blurb leads you to think. I’m going to see if my library has this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – great review!

    1. It was. It led you down one path the. Left you guessing. Definitely worth getting a copy if you can.

  9. […] saw my second review, His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet which I ended up loving after some initial reservations. It was a clever tale of a historic murder […]

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