Friday, January 13, 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme McCrae Burnet

In 1869 in the small farming community of Culduire in Scotland, a horrendous murder occurs. Town Constable Lachlan Mackenzie, his fifteen year old daughter and his three year old son are brutally slaughtered in their home.  There is no doubt about the culprit.  It is seventeen year old Roderick McCrae.  What would lead someone so young to such an act?

The book is set after the crime, while Roderick is waiting in prison for his trial.  There are transcripts of interviews with the neighbors and inhabitants of Culduire.  There are findings by medical doctors as well as those who study the minds of prisoners.  There is an accounting of the trial.  Most prominently, there is the memoir of Roderick himself.

Roderick is a lonely boy.  His mother died in childbirth a year or so ago, leaving Roderick and his siblings with his dour father.  He is considered highly intelligent at his school, with the master coming to visit his father and plead for more education for Roderick, a plea his father turns down.  He has few friends as the others his age regard him as strange and set apart.

According to Roderick, the crime grew out of the prosecution of his family by Lachlan Mackenzie.  The enmity between the two families begins when Roderick is caring for sheep.  One of Mackenzie's is injured and Roderick kills it to end its suffering.  Mackenzie is incensed and wants punishment for Roderick as well as financial compensation.  The compensation is awarded but no legal punishment.  As a result, Mackenzie runs for town constable and is successful.  He becomes the voice of the factor of the land and is responsible for enforcing rules and regulations.  He soon starts to micromanage the town and the inhabitants quickly learn that it doesn't pay to cross him.  He singles out the McCrae family with punishment and humiliation.  Finally, Roderick can take no more and murders Mackenzie with the murder of his children done only to prevent them giving a warning.

But is this an accurate account?  There emerges at the trial a suggestion that Roderick's interest in the daughter and her rejection played a role.  Is Roderick insane?  Some neighbors believe so while others find him kind and gentle.  What do the doctors that examine him and his state of mind believe?  
This book was nominated for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.  It tells a compelling story through the use of documents such as memoirs, interviews, trial transcripts and medical conclusion reports.  The mean life of a Scottish farmer is portrayed and the helplessness one felt if they had a grievance against those in authority.  The reader is left to make up their own mind about what happened at the Mackenzie croft that bloody day.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and mystery readers.

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