Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016, ‘His Bloody Project: Documents relating to the case of Roderick Macrae’, is set in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, and tells the story, through contemporary ‘documents’ (archives), of the young Roddy Macrae, who in 1869 is arrested for a brutal triple murder.
I chose to review this book as, being an archivist working with historical documents every day, I was intrigued by the telling of a story through the use of archives (even if fictional!).
Through a variety of ‘archival’ documents (that we see in full) relating to the case we are invited to scrutinise and interpret the source material of the crime, piecing together the motivations of the protagonist and the actions of others that lead to a terrible chain of events.
The documents used in the telling of the story include: witness statements taken by police, a map, a lengthy account of events by the accused Roderick Macrae, medical reports on the victims by a doctor and a surgeon, a publication “Travels in the Border-lands of Lunacy”, and newspaper coverage of the eventual trial.
Aside from the preface where the author, Graeme Macrae Burnet, provides us with some context, we are left with the documents themselves to spread the tale before us, with the conflicting views of the accused along with Roddy’s own articulate account (written like a memoir) detailing his life of hardships and injustices at the hands of those abusing their positions of power that ultimately lead him to commit these crimes. We know from the start that he did it!