His Bloody Project
Graeme Macrae Burnet, The Text Publishing Company, ISBN 978 1 9254 98257, 280pp
His Bloody Project is fiction that purports to be based on the true story of three murders in 1869 in the highlands of Scotland. It is a well-written and easy read and I found it hard to put down. The back cover describes the book as a “thriller” and, if this is a stronger term that I might have used, it is a book with pace.
Macrae Burnet tells a story of a time when life just wasn’t fair. His tale describes some consequences of that unfairness when the protagonist of his tale commits three murders. That is not a spoiler; it is clear from the outset that Roderick Macrae has committed the murders, has confessed that he did and is unrepentant.
The story is a story about injustice, about prejudice and the arbitrary exercise of power. It is a story about the incomplete understanding that the Victorians has of their world. When Cecil Frances Alexander wrote (in 1848) the hymn “All things bright and beautiful” she (in spite of being called Cecil) included a verse that ran:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
The idea that some divine being had “made the high and lowly and ordered their estate” is reflected in His Bloody Project. The poor are poor because they choose to be poor. Welfare is a bad thing because it encourages the poor to remain poor; it means that people will not pull themselves up by their bootstraps and throw off the yoke of poverty. Such hypocrisy is at the heart of this book and seen through a 21st century lens tends to make one cringe.
What I like most about it is that I kept wanting to look up the events described while knowing that it was all a work of fiction. It reminded me of Hannah Kent’s brilliant “Burial Rites” which, with some similar themes, was based on fact.
Contributed Copy by Trevor Moore Cover reprinted with kind permission of publisher, Saraband