Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

Historical Crime Fiction 5*s
Historical Crime Fiction

I couldn’t resist taking a closer look at this book which has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 when I realised that it made a neat fit with my recent historical crime reads, both factual and fictionalised.

I have to admit I was slightly confused when I opened the first page to a realistic looking statements from the residents of Culduie, I was sure this was a work of fiction but apart from the smattering of Scottish dialect this could have been lifted from my recent non-fiction read, The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane by Jane Housham, which was set only three years prior to His Bloody Project. So we are in August 1869 and the residents of Culduie are giving their views of Roderick Macrae, who is accused of three murders.

The book is structured as if it were a work of non-fiction with the longest section given over to Roderick’s only statement, written at the behest of his advocate Mr Andrew Sinclair while he was awaiting trial at Inverness Castle, having been swiftly detained after the bodies had been found. The account of Roderick Macrae is surprisingly well crafted considering the boy was just seventeen, a crofter who had grown up in a small village and one whose boundaries he had rarely crossed. This discrepancy however had already been covered within Graeme Macrae Burnet’s foreword to the book, if you are going to pick up this book, don’t skip this section!

This was a book that kept my interest on so many different levels. I didn’t know much about the life of a crofter, I know far more now. Life in a small Scottish village was tough, ruled by the Laird through his minions, the crofters pretty much lived from hand to mouth, hoping for a good harvest to keep them in food throughout the black months. Roddy was one of four children living with their father following the death of their mother a year earlier. Jette, Rodderick’s sister acting as mother to the two youngest children, kept house and looked after their strict, morose father. In short a grim life that is hard to imagine. When a new Constable is elected to look after the Laird’s interest in Culduie, life takes a turn for the worse.The most I will say about the section containing Roderick’s account is that it raises a few questions and I’m sure each reader will have a slightly different take on the information. It also introduces us to a range of characters, some of which we naturally met within the statements, others only appear through Rodderick’s eyes.

I loved the structure of the books, I was continually reminding myself that this was a work of fiction, and following the preface, the statements and Roderick’s account we finally get to the trial itself. Here, if you didn’t already have enough questions, you will have plenty more to add to the pile! What is brilliant is that I still have questions, I still want to know more about a few of the characters – yes this is a book I want to read again, knowing what I now know to see what else the pages will give me in the way of certainty. For me the mark of a cracking good read.

Although this book isn’t a crime thriller read in the normal sense of the word, there is very little doubt who committed the murders, it more than makes up for it with the whys. For those readers who enjoy something that challenges the norm, and definitely one that makes you think, you really don’t want to miss out!

First Published UK: 6 November 2015
Publisher: Contraband
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

42 thoughts on “His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

  1. I have a friend who got this book for her birthday and she said it looked awesome and now with your review…I might need to add it to my TBR ^^


  2. This does look absolutely fascinating, Cleo! I’m as interested in the lives of the people involved as I am in anything else, and the setting and context look great. I’m glad you enjoyed it.


    1. The why is always a compelling part of a read for me and so this worked really well for me, and I want to revisit this one now I know more as I have a feeling that there are parts which will mean more with the information I now have.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A fiction written like a non-fiction that makes you think and has your mind filled with questions? This sounds awesome! I like the originality of the book. Great review! I am getting all of the historical books you’ve been talking about for December/January. I have a feeling those are the best months to stay home and delve into this genre!


  4. It is always fun to learn new things. When I had read Mary Alice Monroe’s The Beach House, I loved learning about sea turtles and getting glimpses into the Southern way of life.


        1. The publisher is called Saraband, but the crime fiction arm of it is called Contraband – quite a cool name for the crime bit! I’m SO glad you enjoyed this! I heard that the week before it was longlisted for the Booker it sold just one copy! I’m delighted for Saraband, they’re a great publisher who I’ve dealt with quite a bit. I’ve been wrestling over my review – it’s hard to do justice to such a great book! And I agree that the cover is utterly wonderful. It’ll be in my Books Of The Year DEFINITELY, so I may save my review until then. I met the lovely author Graeme at Bloody Scotland and got him to sign my book from the first print run! No-one I know has disliked it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ooh lucky you! Next year I am determined to make some time to attend at least one festival and get to hear the authors speak but it is hard being stuck on a little island. As I said earlier if it hadn’t made the list I wouldn’t have heard about this one at all – thanks for clearing up the controversy about the publisher too!


  5. Great review, and I’m glad this one got 5 stars! I haven’t read it yet but will do at some point since it’s so rare for a Scot to be shortlisted for the Booker! (Not as rare as a Channel Islander though… 😉 )


  6. Thanks for the tip on the importance of reading the forward for this. I got an e-copy really cheaply the day after it was long listed for the Booker. i’ve now tried reading it twice but couldn’t get into it and I think that is really down to the format. It’s too difficult on a device to flick back to previous chapters to clarify some info. So I have ordered a copy in the library instead because I’m intrigued by it. Lisa Hill reviewed it recently and said it wasnt different enough to be a Booker winner. Do you agree?


    1. I do think this is the type of book that is meant to be read in physical form as I referred back to the statements at the beginning as I came across the characters later on. I don’t think I’m the right person to ask as I just go by whether I enjoyed a book or not, I haven’t read another one quite like this – and I’ve read a fair amount of historical crime fiction – the real genius is in the combination of style and misdirection I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have BOUGHT this and it is waiting on Kindle download. Sounds most interesting, and I heard him on either Today or Front Row where a little mini tease of the short listers was being presented.


  8. Re the Booker – I thought it was just too readable to win, sadly. I’m currently reading Eileen, and I have The Sellout, which won, plus All That Man Is – I hope I’ve got the title right there! I’m catching up on a lot of your wonderful reviews today, Cleo!


    1. Thank you Linda – I’m just grateful it made the shortlist which bought it to my attention – to be honest I’m not that interested in the ‘literary’ prize aspect and my choice of reading is less high-brow than yours 😉


      1. I wouldn’t say my choice of reading is more high brow! Most of all, I love a good psychological thriller! To be honest, a lot of it is too intellectual for me! But I do try and take an interest in prizes – my favourite’s usually what used to be the Orange Prize, for women writers; I can’t remember what it is now, but they’re usually readable! I think part of the reason I really enjoyed this was because it’s set a bit further north from where I live, and because it’s got the crofting background – as you know, Dad’s a farmer! I know he’d love this but like older men it’s all nonfiction for him. Lady Fanciful and FF are the most high brow among the blogs I read – and are excellent at reviewing these books. It’s probably a constant attempt at self-improvement, as I always feel self conscious for not finishing my degree! (I will one day – I’ll be one of those 80-year-olds in the paper with gown & scroll !) PS Didn’t you love The Onion?! That name made me laugh so much! And he caught so many different voices just perfectly. The father was what we call “thrawn” – stubborn. My dad’s a bit like that!


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