Kinder, R.M. An Absolute Gentleman. Although Kinder has won awards for her short stories, this is her first novel, and a remarkably polished and suspenseful first novel. I'm most impressed with her skillful treatment of a subject that easily could have been sensationalized in the manner often associated with novels about serial killers.
Kinder takes an almost diametrically opposite approach by letting Arthur Bloom reveal the ordinary, mundane side of his life. His concern over the manuscript he is writing, his desire for a tenured position at a small college, his need for others to recognize his feelings. Not one of these needs or desire does he present in an twisted way. Bloom wants to have his manuscript published, but doesn't make unnecessary fuss about his much-praised first novel and is willing to work hard at revising his manuscript; he wants the security of the steady salary that tenure would offer; and he wants people to be reasonably considerate of his feelings. His needs don't seem unusual. As he relates his experiences, nothing stands out as a red-flag. On the other hand, neither does he fit comfortably into the status quo.
Arthur Bloom does not fit the multiple murderer profile we so often see. The murders are not frenzied, nor are they elaborately planned. They don't show a marked increase in frequency. In some ways, to Arthur, the murders must seem a combination of circumstances, almost spontaneous. Yet, when the chapters on his childhood are revealed, many of the clues of the sociopath are there.
Kinder does a fine job of giving the unusual upbringing of this intelligent, well-read man who appears gentle, refined, reasonable, and yet who is capable of murdering women with a kind of vacant logic that doesn't affect his own self image. He does not see himself as a monster and does not want anyone else to see him in that light. He is justified in his actions.
Although I tried to find more information online about Robert Weeks, the multiple murderer that Kinder knew and whose story inspired this novel, I was unable to find much beyond the fact that Weeks/Smith was convicted of two murders and suspected of many more. Kinder tells, at the conclusion of the novel, about her attempt to write about the real-life murderer-- and her inability to do so. Arthur Bloom is loosely based on Kinder's knowledge of Weeks, but is a character who evolved to large extent on his own. In her Afterword, Kinder says, "He lives among us as a friend, colleague, neighbor, nice guy, and surprises us--but not totally--by being, simultaneously, murderer."
The writing is precisely moderated for suspense, not sensationalism, and is a compelling portrayal of an "occasional murderer."
Fiction. Crime. 2007. 288 pages.