In 1869, in a remote village in Scotland, three people are brutally murdered. Seventeen year old Roderick Macrae is arrested for the brutal murders. This would be an interesting start to any historical novel, but Brunet makes the unique choice of telling this story as if the reader is leafing through the documents in the case file. Through witness statements, interviews, court documents, the coroner’s report and even a statement by Roderick Macrae himself, we see the story unfold.
The central question of course is why did he do it, since from the beginning there is little doubt that he did. In fact he confesses to the killings, but the question of why is much more complicated. There seem to be conflicting opinions amongst the villagers about Roderick. The village vicar, a stern and morose man, insists that Roderick was wicked and unrepentant, but others recall him as being a gentle soul who became more introspective especially after his mother died. As we move on into the case file we find Roderick Macrae’s memoirs in which he writes about the events that lead up to the killing. In prose that is affectless but nonetheless eloquent, Roderick describes the death of his mother, his complicated relationship with his abusive father, and his love for his sister, and the family’ financial struggles and conflict with one of the deceased. Interspersed between Roderick’s statement are medical reports and even a couple rudimentary psychological evaluations and then finally the trial record. But instead of adding to our understanding of what happened and why, the records create more uncertainty as to Roderick’s motives and raise disturbing questions about his sanity at the time of the murders.
Brunet has created a unique and fascinating story here, just by letting the the documents speak for themselves. The story is both engrossing and troubling and even though we know Roderick did it we keep rooting for a better outcome. This book was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2016 and named as Best Book of 2016 by NPR, Newsweek, The Guardian and others and its recognition is well deserved. Although the format is creative, in less masterful hands the story could have become as dry and lifeless as police reports and case files tend to be. But Brunet manages to breathe life into his story and characters, keeps us hooked until the very end. I think we can expect more great books from this author!
Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to? Sharon, Marian and Keith
Book Study Worthy:YES!
Read in ebook `format.