Remembering Robert B. Parker

One of the nice things about working in the comics field is that we share our passions with one another. I first realized this in the 1970s when Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise novels were coming out and box loads would arrive in the states and my pals were glomming onto them with fervor.

When I joined DC Comics in 1984, I would sit and hear Len Wein and Marv Wolfman hold forth on the detective fiction they were enjoying. When they, and subsequently Dick Giordano, all recommended Robert B. Parker’s work, I took the plunge. I started with the first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, and worked my way through the series.

I could see why they fell in love with Spenser and Parker’s lean prose style that still placed character above plot. When he branched out, notably with this westerns I followed along and saw how easily his template could be adapted to other settings.

At one point, Dick wanted to pick up the new Spenser novel, and maybe get Parker’s signature at an event at the nearby Barnes & Noble. He got swamped and couldn’t even run out for a sandwich so I took a $20 from him, stood on line for over an hour, and finally got Dick his autographed book. Parker thought it a gracious touch, doing this for a fellow fan.

Helen Hunt wanted a Parker-created heroine for movies so he came up with Sunny Randall, described as a female Spenser but not so much. The Sunny Randall adventures were interesting and slowly, Parker revealed she was set in Spenser’s world. Then came Jesse Stone, the ex-alcoholic sheriff, set in the same world.  It was certainly interesting seeing Stone and Randall hook up and crossover from series to series and then sweetly part.

By now it was clear, Parker wrote one thing very well, and was giving us variations on the theme. These were nice variations, but he was also not pushing himself or his audience terribly hard.

He was up to 2-3 books a year over the last decade or so and they were all eagerly read. They went down fast and easy, a delectable palette cleanser after weightier works. Sure, it felt like he was being a little lazy and certainly not changing the status quo with any deliberate plan. Spenser was acknowledging the passage of time, but clearly it was running far slower than in our world.

And today, it all came to an end. Parker was found dead at his desk, at work on another novel. He was 77 and his brand of writing and characters will likely fade with him. I’ve enjoyed his works, and look forward to the last book or two still to come. Split Image, a Jesse Stone book, is due next month and the final Spenser book, Painted Ladies, is scheduled for September. The final story in the Appaloosa series, Blue-Eyed Devil, comes out May 4.

Parker, Spenser, Susan, Hawk, Stone, and Randall will be missed.

7 comments

  • Tom Lyle

    Crap.
    I looked forward to each of his books even if they were like pez – quick and easy.
    He’ll be missed. A lot.
    I think you and Brian Augustyn introduced me to Parker’s work if I remember correctly.
    Oh, well.
    Who do I read now?
    Bummer.

    Tom

  • Atticus

    I have to echo what Tom Lyle said….crap.

    Robert B Parker is my favorite author. I admire the characters he wrote and the honorable approach to living life they all seem to share. If a character in a book said he or she was going to do something, by god they did it….no matter how difficult.

    I have to believe the author was the same kind of man and that’s the kind of person whose passing must be mourned.

    I also mourn the passing of my favorite characters. Sure, it sounds like there may be a few more books “in the pipeline” but it feels like those characters just passed away as well.

    I don’t tear up all that easily, but I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes brimmed upon learning of Parker’s death.

    Crap.

  • For me, it was the TV show that did it. I ended up picking up some of the novels in more recent years, and I still see Robert Urich and Avery Brooks in my mind’s eye when I read those stories.

    I may be able to eventually complete a collection but, as it was with the Saint after Charteris died, it’s not going to be the same.

  • Tom Galloway

    I think you may be one behind on the Jesse Stone books; in the latest, Sunny makes a reappearance.

    Pity that we’ll, presumably, never see a Stone/Spenser team-up book. On the other hand, I do agree that since A Catskill Eagle, the Spencer series did change from having an evolving character arc to being more like traditional series television; enjoyable enough adventures/episodes, but no real change or development of the characters, such that the books can pretty much be read in any order after ACE.

  • jonathan eigen

    I loved his Spenser novels, though I did not get into the others. I might be in the minority but I liked the TV Series a lot with Robert Urich and especially Avery Brooks as hawk. I did not care as much for the later movies with Joe Montainia (misspelled but I have no idea of the correct spelling) mostly because the guy who played hawk was not very good.

  • I never read any of Parker books, so I can’t speak to that, but I was — and still am — one of the myriad Modesty Blaise fans. I collected the novels starting back in the 1980s and am slowly collecting all the Titan reprints of the strips (very slowly, since once those are collected, there will be no more to be found, and I’m in no hurry to be done). I’ve also dug up some of O’Donnell’s romance novels, written under a pseudonym.

  • Jonathan: Joe Montegna, I believe, was the newer actor in the role.

Leave a Reply