Arthur Blume is an English professor of middle age who, when he was much younger, had a book published. Since then he's not managed to have anything else published but earns a reasonable living teaching writing courses at universities. He moves around a lot. He had a very troubled childhood due to a mother who was mentally unstable. He's a serial killer.
Arthur moves to Mason, Missouri, to take up a temporary post at the university there. The people in his department are the usual hotch-potch of quirky, needy, manipulative, obsessive folk. Blume settles in quite easily and is quickly targeted by female colleagues and students who either fancy him or want something else from him. But Arthur is a student himself. A student of human nature, specialising in secrets - something which everyone has and of course the staff of the university are no different...
I haven't really said a lot about the plot of this book and that's partly because of spoilers but also it's a book where not a lot happens - until the last third or so of the book anyway. But that's not to say it's a boring book, not in any sense. I read it in under a day and found it compulsive reading to be honest.
Arthur Blume's voice, as he tells about his life and the life of his university department, is very strong. He's a horrifying man but also a real gentleman and somehow or other you find yourself excusing him. His awful abusive childhood explains a lot and we only get to hear about this in dribs and drabs, his mother was mentally unstable and although there were several men in her life before Arthur was born, it seems none of them did much to help either her or Arthur.
The other reason for excusing him is that we also see the nasty and strange side of 'normal' people and somehow, compared to them, Arthur doesn't seem so bad. I found myself having to remind myself constantly that this pleasant and intuitive man is a killer of the worst kind. How I found myself rooting for him at the end I just don't know! Good writing is the answer I think. This book is skilfully and beautifully written, there's just enough information and horror delivered, as if by drip, to keep you turning those pages, because you just know something awful will eventually happen.
I believe this is R. M. Kinder's first novel, although she has a couple of volumes of short stories available. Based on the evidence of An Absolute Gentleman she's a darn good writer and I do hope she writes a lot more.