His Bloody Project by Graham Macrae BurnetHis Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae centres around a brutal triple murder in a tiny village in Wester Ross in 1869. The identity of the killer – the young crofter of the title – is never in doubt, instead the question is why he did what he did, and whether, in the parlance of the day, he was ‘alienated from his reason.’ The story is told through various documents and reports, the most important of these being Roddy Macrae’s own prisoner memoir; the account of contemporary psychiatrist, James Bruce Thomson; and, finally, a report of the trial itself.

When you read about into the history of the Highlands, the people themselves are often portrayed as little more than victims, buffeted by the storms of clan warfare and the Clearances, rather than being agents of their own destiny. It’s easy to forget that they were real people with everyday human concerns and feelings. So, it was important for me in writing the book to try to create a cast of three-dimensional characters with recognisable human traits and emotions. As a reader, I respond to character more than anything else. For me it’s character that draws you into a story and makes you care about the outcome. So while the abject conditions endured by crofting communities at the time form a backdrop to the action, what I really wanted to was delve into the psychology of my protagonist, Roddy Macrae.

In this I was greatly aided by my discovery of the work of James Bruce Thomson, who was at that time Resident Surgeon at the General Prison in Perth, the institution where Scotland’s criminally insane were housed. Introducing Mr Thomson as a character allowed me to present a different perspective on Roddy’s actions and allow (or even force) readers to make up their own minds about his sanity or otherwise. I think the great appeal of crime fiction is that the reader is engaged in the process of the investigation – as you read you’re trying to piece together what has happened. It’s a truism that eyewitness evidence is the most unreliable of all. Even a few minutes after an event, different witnesses will provide entirely different accounts of what they think has occurred. So in presenting readers with a number of different views of a 150-year-old case, I hope they’ll enjoy playing detective and reaching their own conclusions about what happened.

Graham Macrae Burnet

‘His Bloody Project’ is published by Contraband and will be launched on Thursday 5 November 2015 at Waterstones Argyle Street, Glasgow and then The Wheatsheaf, London on Saturday 14 November 2015.

Bonus: Competition

Enter our competition below and you could win one of two signed copies of ‘His Bloody Project’. Competition closes 12 noon on Thursday 5 November.

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