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.