News of the sudden death of author Robert B. Parker Monday, January 18, 2010, came as a shock to many. Parker, best known for his long-running series featuring the Boston private investigator known only by his last name, Spenser – “like the poet” – suffered a heart attack while at his desk in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home.
In today’s New York Times obituary, Bruce Weber pointed to the influence of writers of “hard-boiled” detective fiction like Raymond Chandler on Parker’s writing. In responding to Parker’s death, three of his colleagues – Ace Atkins, Robert Crais and Dennis Lehane – told the Associated Press of the influence Parker exerted on their own works.
“Hard-boiled detective fiction was essentially dead in the early ’70s. It was considered almost a museum thing,” commented Atkins, author of the Nick Travers Mystery series. “When Parker brought out Spenser, it reinvigorated the genre. … I wouldn’t have a job now without Robert Parker.”
Dennis Lehane, whose Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro series also features Boston-based private investigators, stated, “He taught me how to be funny on the page. He taught me how to be succinct. He taught me how to give voice to that wonderfully jaded Boston sarcasm that came out in his books. I remember telling Bob that the first chapter of my first book (`A Drink Before the War’) was so faux Parker he should have been suing me.”
Robert Crais, author of the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, pointed to the pervasiveness of Parker’s influence, saying that Parker “opened the doors for everyone who came after.” Crais added, “For a long time, the American detective genre was defined by the big three: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. I would say Robert Parker is the fourth.”
Parker was as prolific as he was influential. In his later years he began several new series. His Jesse Stone series, which he started in 1997, features an ex-ballplayer with a drinking problem who becomes the Paradise, Massachusetts police chief. Sunny Randall, from Parker’s Sunny Randall series (1999-2007), is Boston P.I., like Spenser, but one with a highly developed fashion sense and an ex-husband whose family has strong mob connections. Parker also penned a Western series, the Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch series (2005-2009).
Parker leaves behind his wife of 54 years, Joan, to whom he dedicated each of his books, and two sons, David and Daniel. Parker’s multitude of fans also mourn his loss.
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