His Bloody Project by Graeme MacRae Burnet is not so much a whodunnit as a whydunnit mixed with a legal drama about whether the perpetrator is found guilty or not. It got shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is one the best books I’ve read in a while.
The story is set in the late 1860’s in the Highlands of Scotland, a setting that is important and relevant in the context of the story. Young Roddy McRae committed the crime of murder. This isn’t in doubt, and we learn if very early on. The author tells us in a preface that he stumbled upon the story while doing some family history research, and that it was a quite the big deal of its time. The story is supposed to be written from the accused’s testimony, along with ‘genuine’ witness statements and newspaper reports of the trial.
The story is set in a croft in the Highlands of Scotland, barely a village, more a collection of tumbledown cottages where livestock are housed in the family home during the winter months. The crofters subsist in a life of poverty that was the lot of the Highland crofter, scratching a living at the whim of a local Laird. The natural beauty of the geographical setting is in direct contrast to the ugliness of the poverty that existed, and the murder committed.
Its presented as a true story. I don’t know if it really is or not. I’ve done a quick Google to find out and I’ve come the conclusion that it’s not, but I have to admit. I’m not certain, and I’d be quite satisfied to find it is (although sad for the people involved). As I understand it, it is inspired by events that are true and that have similarities, but that don’t involve the people mentioned. I think there are events described in the telling that may have happened to the author’s anscestors, but the gist of the story is all fiction.
It probably helps to think of it as true. It’s not a very long book, so is quickly read. It engages and hold the readers throughout. It will play with your sympathies though. You will swing between verdicts, but the verdict for the book, is that it’s a winner and definitely one to recommend, especially if you are fond of an historical novel.