I couldn’t remember the title of this book when I sat down to write, so I popped into google the things I could remember: novel, nineteenth century, crofter, bloody, murder, Scotland. And pop! Google knew exactly the title because there aren’t many novels set in the 1880s Scotland about a murderous crofter. (Probably there’s just this one.) Google also wanted me to know that Graeme Macrae Burnet is the author. You probably wanted to know, too.
Imaginatively told through a series of connected documents, the novel plays with the historical record and the reliability of narrators in ways that are entertaining and engaging. Principally narrated through the first person confession of the accused (and actual) murderer, Roderick Macrae (presumably some long distant relative of the author? who cares.), the novel also weaves in medical documents and the trial report. The supposed interest rests in whether Roderick was legally insane when committing the crime or whether he knew what he was up to.
I say supposed interest because the book isn’t that interesting. I kept thinking a twist or complication was coming that might make it more fraught as to whether Roderick was guilty or not, but no such wrinkle emerges. I did find the narrated confession to be a little compelling as we see Roderick’s desperate circumstances and his rationale for his crimes unfold.
Mostly I’d say this one is an easy pass. Not all that gripping (despite the claims of the back cover), nor as morally ambiguous as there is the potential for, and certainly not as playful with the genre as I’ve read in other places. So yep. It was shortlisted for the Booker, and that might be the only reason you’ll hear about it.