Book Review

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet


Rating: ★★★★☆

This year’s Man Booker Prize longlist brought to my attention several titles that I might not have come across otherwise.  One of these is His Bloody Project, which was published in November 2015 by independent publisher Contraband.

It’s tells the story of 17-year-old Roderick (Roddy) Macrae, who at the outset of the novel has been incarcerated for murdering three people.  He openly admits his guilt, and doesn’t try to defend or justify his actions in anyway, making this a somewhat unusual novel.  We know both the crime and the perpetrator, and so the reader is left to determine the motive for this act.  Was it a premeditated act?  Was Roddy “in his right mind” at the time?

The novel is partly epistolary in format, and the reader is presented with various accounts including statements from witnesses and the coroner’s report as well as an overview of the trial.  The first half of the novel is an account from Roddy himself, written whilst he is prison ahead of the trial, and is intended to furnish his solicitor with his background and to hopefully shed some light on why he committed this heinous act.

What emerges is a troubled family history where he and his family are persecuted by their neighbour, who is one of the eventual victims.  Roddy’s account is surprisingly mature, and it’s easy to forget that he is, in many ways, a naïve young man, barely past the threshold of adulthood.  His account has a real air of authenticity about it, and I found it to be absolutely fascinating, if somewhat bleak in places.  This authentic vibe isn’t entirely surprising, as the author states at the outset that this account is based upon a real life document (which he admits he has modernised to improve its readability), although whether it’s a true account or not has been debated since it was first penned in 1869.

The novel then moves onto various other reports, including the statement from the coroner who examined the victims, before detailing his trial.  One thing I really liked about the novel was that it made me feel almost as though I was part of the jury.  There are some discrepancies in the evidence presented, and even though the jury does make a decision (which I won’t share with you), there’s still a feeling that the reader is being left to draw their own conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed His Bloody Project, and whilst I don’t believe it will make the short list for this year’s Booker Prize, I hope that it’s nomination has introduced it to a wider audience then it might otherwise have seen.


  1. This book would have passed me by without your great review. I like the fact that there is no question of guilt and I will definitely be adding this to the wish list

    1. I’m not sure I’d have come across it were it not for its Booker nomination, but a great read

  2. Your review has me adding this one to the top of my TBR list Jo! I started following the Man Booker lists a couple years ago when US by David Nicholls was long listed (love his books!) and then A Little Life was nominated last year. I read Eileen which I didn’t like at all but I’m interested in criminal justice and the courts so I’ll give this a try

    1. Yay! Really hope you enjoy it. I’m really surprised at the inclusion of Eileen on the list, I really wasn’t that taken with it either. But then, the Booker has always been unpredictable.

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