Robert Parker, 77-year-old creator of ‘Spenser’ private eye novels, dies in Mass.By AP
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
‘Spenser’ novelist Robert Parker dies in Mass.
BOSTON — Robert B. Parker, the blunt and beloved crime novelist who helped revive and modernize the hard-boiled genre and branded a tough guy of his own through his “Spenser” series, has died. He was 77.
An ambulance was sent to Parker’s home in Cambridge on Monday morning for reports of a sudden death, said Alexa Manocchio, spokeswoman for the Cambridge police department.
Parker’s longtime agent, Helen Brant, said that the author’s widow, Joan, called her Monday right after finding him dead at his desk.
“They had had breakfast together Monday and he was perfectly fine,” Brant said. “She went out to do her running and when she came back about an hour later, he was dead. We were in a complete state of shock and still cannot quite believe it.”
Prolific to the end, Parker wrote more than 50 novels, including 37 featuring Boston private eye Spenser. The character’s first name was a mystery and his last name emphatically spelled with an “s” in the middle, not a “c.” He was the basis for the 1980s TV series “Spenser: For Hire,” starring Robert Urich.
Parker openly worshipped Raymond Chandler and other classic crime writers and helped bring back their cool, clipped style in the first “Spenser” novel, “The Godwulf Manuscript” from 1973. Within a few years, in “Looking for Rachel Wallace” and “Early Autumn,” he was acclaimed as a master in his own right.
“Hard-boiled detective fiction was essentially dead in the early ’70s. It was considered almost a museum thing,” said Ace Atkins, author of “Devil’s Garden,” ”Wicked City” and several other novels. “When Parker brought out Spenser, it reinvigorated the genre. … I wouldn’t have a job now without Robert Parker.”
Robert Crais, known for his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels, said Parker “opened the doors for everyone who came after.”
“For a long time, the American detective genre was defined by the big three: Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald. I would say Robert Parker is the fourth,” Crais said.
Parker also was known for his Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone series. His other books included a novel inspired by the life of Jackie Robinson, “Double Play”; the Westerns “Appaloosa,” ”Resolution” and “Brimstone”; and “Perchance to Dream,” a sequel to Chandler’s “The Big Sleep.”
Parker won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and a Grand Master Edgar in 2002 for lifetime achievement. A new Jesse Stone novel, “Split Image,” is scheduled to come out next month and several other books, including some Spenser novels, “in the pipeline,” according to Chris Pepe, his editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group.
A native of Springfield, Mass., Parker studied as an undergraduate at Colby College and received a Ph.D. in English from Boston University, where his dissertation was on Hammett and Chandler, whom he made no secret of imitating. He was teaching at Northeastern University when he created Spenser, observing later that he was inspired in part because Chandler was dead and he missed Chandler’s famous detective, Phillip Marlowe.
Admirers credit Parker with not only honoring the hard-boiled style, but updating it. Unlike Marlowe and other classic characters, Spenser was not a confirmed loner, but in a solid relationship. Parker’s stories also included blacks, Latinos and gays.
“He opened the door to women as readers of hard-boiled detective fiction,” Crais said. “He set the stage and made a ready-made audience for authors like Sue Grafton and Sara Peretsky.”
Brant, Parker’s agent, said a private ceremony will take place this week to remember the author, and a public memorial, a “celebration of his life and work,” is planned for mid-February in Boston.
AP National Writer Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.
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