Wednesday 19 October 2016

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

His Bloody Project has been shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize. It was a surprise inclusion to my mind. Historical crime fiction?

But, as it turned out, I loved it.

It's a psychological thriller as opposed to a detective story. The crime - victims and perpetrator - are presented straight up. The unfolding story reveals the how and why of the crime. It's a page-turner - easy to read and thoroughly entertaining.

However it's not a reread.

For me a book is reread if it touches a deep emotional chord that needs more exploring and prodding or if it contains layers of meaning that will take several reads to unpack.

His Bloody Project doesn't fit either of these reread categories for me.

Burnet has set this book up as true story. A part of his own family history that he unearthed during some genealogical research.

He plays around with this idea right from the start with the title page - His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrea: A NOVEL, edited and introduced by Graeme Macrae Burnet.

The tension between what's real and what's not continues throughout the reading of Macrae's journal, the medical reports (citing real doctors) and the trial proceedings. Metafiction at it's best!

I normally only read cosy crime, so I thought this story might be outside my comfort zone. But His Bloody Project is really a delicious piece of creative writing decidedly sitting inside the historical fiction genre. Burnet delves into the mind of someone charged with a heinous crime. It's a psychological study about sanity, reason and motivation, set in the Scottish Highlands.

I'm glad this book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize otherwise I would never have read it. The bloody fingerprints on the cover would have been enough to put me off for good!

Maybe the Booker shouldn't have to be about shortlisting the well-known, much loved authors who consistently write interesting books that we will all read regardless. Maybe book prizes, like the Booker can be about bringing to light some unknown, newer writers who deserve a much wider audience.

I've just realised this is the issue that has been bugging me around Bob Dylan winning the the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Nobel Prize is designed to go to
an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Alfred Nobel, 'produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction'. (wikipedia)
I have no problems with another American winning the prize, or a poet/songsmith instead of an author. I can even accept that another privileged white guy wins again - that's the world we live in after all!

But one of the reasons I've enjoyed reading the Nobels over the years (very spasmodically I confess) is the insight into other cultures, the chance to discover new authors that I would never have come across otherwise and for lesser known, but important and culturally significant writers to become more widely known and appreciated.

That kind of diversity is a very good thing any way you look at it.

Bob Dylan is already well known, well regarded and well awarded for his cultural and creative efforts. He will not be forgotten by history.

It feels like this was the easy choice, a nostalgic choice and I will always be left wondering who missed out.


  1. Interesting description of what makes a reread. Not something I had given much thought to before but you are right. This sounds like an interesting read and right up my street actually.

    1. Even though there is a gruesome crime at one point, the rest of the book can be described as fiendishly fun. I hope you give it a go - it deserves a wide readership.


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