In Memoriam: Robert B. Parker

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?

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  • Shona

    I’m so sad to read about this, I also enjoyed the Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall books, But I have been reading the Spenser books for 20 years. I’ve never stuck with a series for so long without getting sick of the main character, or wishing the author would move on. I enjoyed every Spenser book, and I’m so sorry to see the series come to an end. That said, please let them retire the series and not have a ghostwriter try to continue them, like so many other authors with popular series. RIP Robert B Parker.

    • Adam

      I wouldn’t read any faux Parkers. It would just be too sad. That said, I can’t see his estate [Joan is still alive and well, as are his sons] allowing that to happen.

  • Scott

    Early Autumn was my favorite Spenser book. But my favorite thing to read was any conversation between Spenser and Hawk.

    • Ralph H. Johnson

      I agree with Adam’s statement about Parker’s skill at writing dialogue which, my judgement, is the best in the business. [“Nobody does it better; makes me feel sad for the rest…”] I started reading Parker in 1974,enjoyed the evolution of the series, the break with Susan and how he handled it (not well), the cast of characters he gradually assembled, and his dalliances with Rita Fiore. I thank Harlen Corben for his candid admission (widely quoted) that “90% of us admit he’s an influence, and the rest of us lie about it.” His novels were uneven but even a subpar Parker was a more enjoyable read that many others at their best. Yeah, I’m sure gonna miss him.

    • Janie P

      Yes, Scott: the Spenser series is the best, and the conversations between Spenser and Hawk are my favorite as well.

  • Adam

    I love ALL of his books, but I too am most partial to the Spenser novels. As time went by I didn’t even care ‘whodunit’ any more; I just read them because I enjoyed spending time in that world and with those characters. Parker’s dialogue was a pure joy to read. Wonderfully stylized, it somehow managed to be both spare and eloquent. I will miss the experience of reading a new Parker book SO much. Thanks to his proliifc output, at least there will be a couple more of them to enjoy even though the author himself is gone. R.I.P.

    • irish

      Of course the Spencer novels….

  • Honest Abe

    Such sad news about Robert B. Parker. I just finished reading “The Professional”. Like all his Spenser novels, it was first rate. If I had to pick my favorite, though, I would pick “Potshot”. Loved that book. My favorite book of his, however, is “Appaloosa”. Granted, it’s not a Spenser novel, but man, it’s about the best Western I’ve ever read. Rest in peace, RBP.

    • the dude

      Appaloosa was and is one of my favorite books, I am so sorry that this great writer is no longer with us.

  • Ryan

    I love all his stuff but especially the Appaloosa western trilogy. The writing was so whip smart, like Hawk and Spenser. Here’s hoping the bring back the Spenser tv show. I hope he has a few last books waiting to be published. Such a sad day

  • labgirl

    i am so sad to hear about robert b. parker. he is my favorite writer, i loved everything he wrote. the world just became a much colder place. my condolences to his wife and family.

  • J

    This is so tragic! He is by far my favorite mystery author. His Spenser novels were the first “grown-up” mystery novels I read. I remember devouring the first ten books in under a week because they were so good, the characters and relationships so fleshed out, that I couldn’t put them down. When you read an author for this many years, to hear he died…it feels like a close friend passed away. I couldn’t even begin to pick a favorite.

  • Big D

    Sad news. RBP was my favorite writer. I enjoyed all of his books that I’ve read so far, the most recent being Appaloosa. The Spenser books are my favorites. Especially Double Deuce because it was the first on I read, and Promised Land because it was the first appearance of Hawk. Also Mortal Stakes because I share RBP’s love of baseball.

  • Doneycat

    Every few years, I would go back and re-read old Spenser novels. I may have to start again soon. A personal favorite was an early one, “Judas Goat”, but “A Catskill Eagle” is an especially strong one as well.

  • nancy

    i just recently started reading Parker and instantly fell in love with Jesse Stone. I feel like that whole world of Stone is over before it really began for me.

  • DanOregon

    I’d like to see someone step in and perhaps finish any stories Parker was working on (turnabout, fairplay etc. etc.) Thoughts and prayers to Susan, Hawk, Joe Broz and Gino Fish.

    • Janie P

      Yes, I feel we’ve lost them as well.

  • Sue

    I love all Robert’s books and am greatly saddened by his death. My sympathy goes out to his family. Robert’s books will be greatly missed.

    • Virginia

      Your pretty tuaecp does appear to be the same pattern as mine, although with a slightly different mark. I wonder if they were both made in Staffordshire and whether it was the same factory?

  • Terry T

    In addition to enjoying the written word, my wife and I would listen to the audio versions of Spencer novels as read by Joe Mantegna on road trips. We always wondered if Spenser would ever pop the question to Susan. I suppose we’ll never know. That and his first name…

    RIP, Mr. Parker…and thank you for giving us much pleasure.

  • Sue

    I love all Robert’s books and am greatly sadden by his death. My sympathy goes out to his family. Robert’s books will be greatly missed.

  • chieromancer

    I was first introduced to RBP’s novels when a condensed “Looking for Rachel Wallance” appeared in Cosmopolitan. I promptly went out and bought all his previous books and have been reading them ever since.

    I can’t say he broke new ground on the detective genre–he borrowed heavily from the news and his personal life. But the dialog was sharp and witty and I was especially attracted to a strong male lead who did not tom cat about.

    One thing that bothered my about his writing was that he was starting to show his age. For example, Sunny Randall, a former cop, trys to find out about someone by looking him up in the phone book. (The phone book!).

    Never the less, he will be missed. And while I would too would be reluctant to see someone pick up his gauntlet, wouldn’t it be something to see his wife write as Susan Silverman? Maybe have a fling with Hawk, as they flirted with each other so long.

    Sadly, I had a premonition he would pass. He will be sorely missed.

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