Monday, May 23, 2011

Robert B. Parker Passes Away Working At His Desk

Crime Novelist, Spenser Creator Robert B. Parker Dies At 77
(By Patricia Sullivan, Washington Post, Jan 20, 2010)

Robert B. Parker, 77, a popular and prolific author of hard-boiled American crime fiction who was best known for the 37-book Spenser series, which became an ABC television show in the 1980s, died Jan. 18 at his writing desk at home in Cambridge, Mass. The cause of death was not known, but his longtime agent, Helen Brann, said it appeared to have been a heart attack.

Mr. Parker helped revive the detective fiction genre with Spenser (no first name), a wise-cracking, street-smart and surprisingly literate Boston private eye. The character -- a former boxer and former state police officer -- is a gourmet cook who grapples with complex relationships with a witty female companion, an African American alter ego and a foster son. Named for Edmund Spenser, a Shakespeare contemporary, the character and series became favorites of literati who enjoyed crisp, witty prose. Mr. Parker's work was notable for its quick pace, evocative descriptions, sharp dialogue and focus on themes such as women in contemporary society and the troubled status of adolescents. His protagonists were tough guys -- prone to violence but true to a moral code as they protected a lesbian writer in "Looking for Rachel Wallace" (1980) and investigated drug smuggling in "Pale Kings and Princes" (1987) and "Pastime" (1991).

Mr. Parker wrote 65 books in 37 years and was among the top 10 best-selling authors in the world, Brann said, with 6 million to 8 million books sold. He received the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for best novel (1977) and its Grand Master Award (2002) and Mystery Ink's Gumshoe Award for Lifetime Achievement (2007). In addition to the "Spenser: For Hire" TV series, which starred Robert Urich, Mr. Parker's Jesse Stone novels became CBS TV movies starring Tom Selleck in 2005. "Appaloosa," his 2005 Western, was made into a 2008 movie directed by and starring Ed Harris. Mr. Parker created a third fictional private eye, Sunny Randall, at the request of Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt, who asked him to write a novel with a female investigator. The first book in the series did not become a feature film, but it was a bestseller. His prodigious output was the result of a disciplined work ethic: He wrote five pages a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. "I started writing the Jesse Stone novels because I realized that at this point in my career it takes me three to four months to write a Spenser novel and as a result I have a lot of time on my hands," he told in 2000. His next book, "Split Image," a Jesse Stone book, is due out next month. He had turned in several books that have not been published, including some in the Spenser series, Brann said.

Robert Brown Parker was born Sept. 17, 1932, in Springfield, Mass., and graduated in 1954 from Colby College in Maine. He went into the Army for the next two years. He received a master's degree in 1957 and a doctorate in 1971, both in English from Boston University. His doctoral dissertation was a study of the private eye in the novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Mr. Parker earned his living as a technical writer at Raytheon and in the advertising department of Prudential Insurance until the doctoral degree got him a full professorship at Northeastern University in Boston, where he began to write seriously. His first novel, "The Godwulf Manuscript," sold within three weeks of completion. Over the next five years, Mr. Parker wrote four more Spenser novels, each increasingly successful. In 1979, he was able to quit teaching and devote himself full time to writing.

So clearly and consciously did Mr. Parker consider himself an heir of Chandler's that the Chandler estate in 1988 asked him to complete a 30-page manuscript left uncompleted at Chandler's death. The result was "Poodle Springs," a novel that carries both authors' names on its title page. It was panned by the New York Times Book Review as "a chaos of tawdry shortcuts." Mr. Parker, who claimed not to read reviews of his work, nevertheless wrote a sequel to Chandler's classic "The Big Sleep," calling it "Perchance to Dream." Survivors include his wife of more than 50 years, Joan Parker of Cambridge, and two sons. In interview after interview, Mr. Parker refused the opportunity to make the idea of writing detective fiction seem mysterious. "The art of writing a mystery is just the art of writing fiction," he told the Boston Globe magazine in 2007. "You create interesting characters and put them into interesting circumstances and figure out how to get them out of them. No one is usually surprised at the outcome of my books."

'Spenser' Novelist Robert B. Parker, 77, Dies In Mass.
(By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY)

Robert B. Parker, the celebrated writer of more than 50 books, the best known of which were his Spenser novels about a wisecracking ex-boxer turned Boston private eye, died today in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77. "This is a man who had an enormous following," says Otto Penzler, owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York and a friend of the prolific writer for 30 years. "He was extremely successful. People just loved his books." The Associated Press reported an ambulance was sent to Parker's Cambridge home Monday morning on a report of a sudden death. The death was of natural causes and was not considered suspicious, says Alexa Manocchio, spokeswoman for the Cambridge police department.

Parker will be sorely missed. "People just loved Spenser," Penzler says. "They loved the other books, too, and they sold nearly as well as the Spensers. Let's face it. Sunny Randall (the lead character in six novels) sounded very much like Spenser, and so did Jesse Stone." Split Image, the ninth novel featuring police chief Stone, will be published by Putnam on Feb. 23. Spenser's popularity surged with the TV show Spenser: For Hire, which premiered in 1985 starring Robert Urich as Spenser and Barbara Block as love interest Susan Silverman. It ran for three seasons. Urich also starred as Spenser in four TV movies. Joe Mantegna played Spenser in three subsequent made-for-TV films. Stone Cold was one of about a half-dozen Jesse Stone novels made into TV films starring Tom Selleck.

Chris Pepe, Parker's editor at Putnam for more than 20 years, says Parker "was an absolute straight shooter, completely charming. What you saw was what you got. He was just totally professional. He was the best person to work with. He made my job really easy, and it will probably never happen again." Parker's books about the irreverent tough-talking Spenser — 37 were published — will be what he's most remembered for. "The Spenser character was a lot like Bob himself," Penzler says. "Very funny and smart-alecky. He had that kind of a mouth. He was honorable and loyal. Those are characteristics that are not as ubiquitous as we might like." On Parker's writing style was spare and razor-sharp: "It was absolutely pitch-perfect dialogue," Penzler says. "Most of his books were dialogue, anyway. It's the way Bob thought, the way he spoke, in funny short bursts. Other people would take four paragraphs, and he in one sentence could sum up a situation in a humorous way with perception and intelligence." In addition to the February publication of Split Image, Blue-Eyed Devil, a Western, will be released in May. And, luckily for his fans, there are some Spenser novels in the production pipeline, according to Pepe. "We don't have hard dates yet, but there are more on the way. You haven't seen the last of him. That's for sure."

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