His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? Will he hang for his crime?
Detailing a triple murder committed in a rural Scottish village, the book takes the form of a series of documents, akin to a case file, pertaining to the crime. Where I had initially thought these would be debilitating to the plot, I actually found them somewhat delectable and all-encompassing. Witness statements, medical reports, a written account from the prisoner himself, and a detailed portrayal of the trial, all fused together to create an utterly unforgettable work of fiction.
The whole thing is steeped in pure brilliance. For a time, prior to a quick bout of research, I truly believed I was reading a non-fictional historical account. Burnet has everything en pointe - his nineteenth century dialogue, his Highland way of life, his in-depth and overwhelming commentary on the psychology of a criminal, and most importantly, his preface. It's nothing less than delicious, and it had me tearing through the pages, starving.
Each of the sections are masterfully unique in their style. Roddy's account of his actions was written fully, and beautifully; Burnet somehow creates a fresh rustic atmosphere of a small pastoral village, juxtaposed against an ache of tension, misery, and gloom. You can smell the sea breeze and feel the earth under your feet as the men work the crops, but your heart is covered in reek due to the heavy foreshadowing Burnet has already laid upon you. You know what's coming, but you don't know yet how it comes, and when it does, you're not ready.
The various other documents feel different in their own ways; the witness statements filled with emotion, the medical reports incredibly unfeeling and clinical, and the psychologist's section was given to us with the pomposity and self-assurance one could only expect from a man of such acclaim in the 1800s. Although the transition from one section to next felt jarring, it was important to feel this in our journey through the documents.
I reached the back cover completely overwhelmed by the little details, nuances, and clues Burnet had scattered across the pages for me and which, although acknowledged, I steamrolled over in my desperate desire to take in more of his words. I cannot stress how clever this was, and how entirely satisfying this cleverness is to reflect on.
Impressive, excellent, and completely unique. I loved it.