In September 1869, Roderick (Roddy) Macrae is held for the brutal murders of 3 members of the Mackenzie family – Lachlan Mackenzie, his daughter Flora and his infant son Donnie. The flow of the storyline is original, absorbing and really well crafted considering it’s presented as statements from neighbours, reports from what we could loosely call a criminal psychologist, and primarily a memoir from Roddy Macrae.
The story of harsh frugal daily life for Roddy and his family in Culduie, in the highlands of Scotland in the 1860s, is so vividly and imaginatively portrayed. The Laird of the village has appointed Lachlan Mackenzie his constable, a role he adopts with great vigour and ruthlessness, especially with those that he would take umbrage against. The Macrae family are one such family fallen out of favour. I felt so frustrated with a stubbornly principled father, in a time when survival is more important. The harms that befall the family from the early death of the mother to incidents with Roddy’s sister and the transgressions or misunderstandings from Roddy himself, make you feel the hopelessness and misery that Roddy must have felt, and maybe what drove him to commit these murders. The writing and characters are so well developed that you feel sympathy for a murderer when the victim is a cruel, vindictive man like Lachlan Mackenzie. Yet you feel abhorrence towards him for the sickening death of an innocent infant? The story is masterfully told and it’s no surprise it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.
The story finishes with the trial of Roddy Macrae and there is an interesting twist as to who the main target of the attacks was that day. Was it revenge on a brutal and spiteful man or emotional breakdown against an unrequited love? What was his bloody project? The tabloids and stories that made news at the time exposed the treatment tenants faced under callous landlords and their agents.
I would highly recommend this book.