We must take things as they really are, and not as we wish them to be. -Rudolph Virchow
Roderick Macrae, from a small hovel in Culduie, Scotland, confessed to his bloody project right from the start of this novel. He willingly took his flaughter from the croft he was tending and applied it to the head of the village constable, Lachlan Mackenzie. (He also did away with Lachlan’s daughter, Flora, and son, Donald.) But, after reading all that Lachlan’s tricky, manipulative, self appointed authority had done to Roderick’s family, I don’t much blame him.
Tensions between Roderick and Lachlan began when Roderick slaughtered a sheep of Lachlan’s, whose leg had become dislocated from being mired in the mud even though Roderick was supposed to be tending the sheep. Roderick’s father was charged 35 shillings for the loss of this sheep, a fee he could ill afford to pay. But Lachlan did not leave his anger when Roderick agreed to work for him in recompense.
He found one way after another to torment Roderick’s family, from impregnating his sister to re-allocating a portion of their land to a neighbor. There was no injustice he seemed incapable of executing on the Macrae family specifically, or the villagers in general. In fact, during the trial, members of the village testified that Lachlan wielded his power in order to advance his own interests.
The novel takes us through each stage of the crime, from every point of view, and in so doing examines the machinations of the law against the poor and uneducated defendant. The whole novel, to me, highlights power that has been put to ill use, from 1869 in which the novel is set, to today. Are our only choices to fight against unjust power with what is considered a crime, or must we simply accept it?
It is masterfully written, and most probably in contention for a place on the short list in my opinion, beating The Sellout, and A Work Like Any Other by far. (At this point, I am in favor of My Name is Lucy Barton and The Many, first and second, although I have five more books to read before I complete the long list.)