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Monday, January 21, 2008

An Absolute Gentleman

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.

17 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I will request this one from my neighborhood library.

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  2. I just finished cabinet of curiosities....it was a weird one! but I totally enjoyed meeting pendergast and look forward to others in the series (I do like quirky protagonists - I found him to be a bit of a cross between sherlock holmes, mcgyver (sp?) and indiana jones! as far as the mystery reads, I best to get back to leo in seattle and see how he and the rummies wrap up the case. but I've definitely put kinder's book on 'the list' sounds like a good read.....

    happy to read on bq that laddie is doing better!

    xxx

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  3. Oh wow........where is my brain??? When you posted about this novel a few days ago, the author's name didn't register! It's R.M. Kinder! She teaches (taught?) at Central Missouri State College where I went to grad school. I saw her practically every day for 2 years! Before I met her, I bought Sweet Angel Band because of a rave review in the Kansas City Star's Sunday book section. Cool! I must read this book!

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  4. Chancy - I hope you will enjoy it!

    kimy - They are all strange, but Cabinet was my least favorite. Special Agent Pendergast is a strange bird isn't he? It has been so long since I read the first in that series that I may be wrong, but I'm not sure he was originally intended to be the focus of the book.

    Eva -- Creepy, yes; not frightening, though, or gory.

    Bybee -- Hah! Do you remember anything about Robert Weeks aka Smith, the murderer Kinder knew? I believe he was convicted in 1987. What a coincidence, Bybee!

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  5. No, I've heard about it but I didn't move to MO until fall of '88.

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  6. Bybee -- I'm glad you didn't experience any of the fear that must have been a part of the community experience!

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  7. This sounds both interesting and very scary. When I was a teenager we had a customer who used to come into the shop every day, a quiet unassuming man who seemed no bother to any one. Then one day an IRA terrorist blew himself up as he tried to set a bomb in a building in a local town. It was him. You simply never know.

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  8. Ann - It is scary to think that sometimes people that should frighten us appear so normal!

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  9. This book sounds like something I would enjoy reading. I have never heard of the author, but will definitely be looking for this book. It's going straight to my wishlist. Great review, Jenclair!

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  10. Great review ~ I love books that are based on fact. Serial killers intrigue and repulse us all. This one is added to my list.

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  11. L.F. -- She's written short stories, but this is her first novel. She's very good.

    Paula -- Kinder emphasizes that Bloom is mostly fictional, but that he was inspired by Robert Weeks. I'd still like to know more about Weeks and her experiences with him.

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  12. I am on the waiting list for this one!

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  13. Deborah -- i think you'll like it. Such well-read murderer!

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  14. I knew Robert Weeks. He moved to Tucson and somehow became part of our circle of friends—a bunch of bluegrass musicians and people who liked to listen and throw potluck parties. “Charles,” as he called himself, enjoyed our company. We socialized with him for about two years. The author, Rose Marie, was part of the group, and later dated him. What a shock it was in Tucson to see “Charles” portrayed on the Unsolved Mysteries television show, handcuffed, and led away.
    In the book the story has nothing to do with Tucson or actual events, but is still an incredibly captivating book, going far beyond the typical descriptive murder story. Rose Marie has really proven herself with this one.

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  15. Mark - I found the book captivating as well, partly because of the very ordinariness the man was able to display. I guess that is evidenced by his ability to socialize with you and your friends without ever giving anyone a clue to his other persona.

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  16. For morbid curiosity re: Robert Weeks:

    http://www.skcentral.com/readarticle.php?article_id=576

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