Robert B. Parker, who evoked the streets of Boston in over 60 bristling, crisply witty crime novels, died on January 18 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77. According to his agent, Parker suffered a heart attack and died at his desk, perhaps not surprising for a man who wrote religiously every day (and sometimes published three books a year). I read his Jesse Stone novels, I read his Sunny Randall novels, but, like many of Parker’s readers, what I loved best were his Spenser novels, featuring the blunt, wisecracking Boston private investigator with a heart of gold. (“The question of spelling Spenser’s name has arisen,” he once wrote on his blog. “I may be the only one who has never misspelled it. Spenser with an S, like the English poet…”) Parker, a onetime English professor, was clearly influenced by such writers as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett , but his main characters were starkly different from theirs. Spenser was social. He was a gourmet cook (his dishes feature prominently in each of his books – so much so that Parker had apparently once considered writing a cookbook), and he had complicated, loving relationships with women. “He’s not unhappy and he’s not isolated,” Parker said once. “He doesn’t say, Get me off this frozen star, as Marlowe does in one of the books. The loneliness is the price Marlowe pays for his integrity. Spenser is able to maintain it in context, unlike Marlowe, who has to remain separate in order to remain pure.”
I’m still reeling from news of Parker’s death and trying to come up with my list of his favorites. How about any of you? Which Parker books do you love most?