An experimental, "found document" crime novel. A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of 17-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? And will he hang for his crime?
...a blackly funny investigation into madness and motivation ... The descriptions of the crofting community, scratching a living from ungenerous soil, at the mercy of the laird, the church and the weather, are fascinatingly done ... The book’s pretence at veracity, as well as being a literary jeux d’esprit, brings an extraordinary historical period into focus, while the multiple unreliable perspectives are designed to keep the audience wondering, throughout the novel and beyond. This is a fiendishly readable tale that richly deserves the wider attention the Booker has brought it.
Although he clearly draws on a Scottish literary tradition, there are other Celtic influences at work too: Joyce’s fragmentary assembly of narrative and that blackly comic strain characteristic of so many Irish writers. But this is not just a tricksy literary experiment — Burnet is a writer of great skill and authority. The central notion — a thuggish bully receiving bloody justice — is satisfyingly freighted with acute historical detail ... Whatever the genre, few readers will be able to put down His Bloody Project as it speeds towards a surprising (and ultimately puzzling) conclusion.
In offering us various pieces of the puzzle without any neat, prefab conclusions, Burnet turns his readers into detectives ... The seduction of many crime stories is that they offer all the answers we don’t get in real life. His Bloody Project reminds us that there are other pleasures to be drawn from a superb novel that revolves around the act of murder.