Thursday, 23 November 2017

What Do You Believe? (His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet)

"Those awaiting the appearance of a monster were sorely disappointed...the prisoner was no more than a boy." - Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project, page 191

His Bloody Project is a stunning execution of the unreliable narrator. The premise is simple, Roderick Macrae has committed a triple murder. His lawyer launches an insanity defence. It's made up of a number of documents: Roderick's account of his life and crimes, autopsy reports, a run-down of the trial... It's a fiction novel that reads like true crime.

There's one more thing you should know. It's set in 1869. This means that appearance plays a massive part in the designation of criminal status. For example, there was the "science" of phrenology which was all about the shape of your head - a bump in the wrong place could brand you violent or lazy. Morality is important too, especially in terms of family. This is the era when evolution is new, and with it came a fear of devolution - were things like low morality and criminal behaviour hereditary? It also brings up some serious questions about capital punishment - Roderick is seventeen. If he's found guilty, he's dead.

Without giving too much away, I will say I believed Roderick right up until I read Flora's autopsy report. After that, I began to have serious doubts. It wasn't that I necessarily thought Roderick was in the right - you could have hours of debate over whether or not Lachlan Broad was persecuting his family or properly enforcing the law - but I could see it his way. I could understand his motive, even though I didn't agree with his actions. 

But Flora's autopsy revealed information that Roderick's account didn't.

Gender as a theme was really interesting. Our perception of the Victorians as stuffy and repressed is very much a reflection of upper class England at the time. This novel is set in the Scottish highlands and features predominantly working class characters. As a result, attitudes to courtship are, not necessarily more mordern, but certainly more relaxed. Ideas of morality? Not so much. I mean the comparison of John Macrae's response to Roderick's situation and Jetta's situation is alarming to say the least. 

If you like history, unreliable narrators, or just a good murder story, you can't give this one a miss.