Thursday, January 21, 2010

Robert Parker is dead

One of my favorite authors, Robert B Parker, died Monday at 77 of a heart attack. He was the author of the Spenser books, as well as at least three other series and several one offs. I would have to characterize Parker's books as a guilty pleasure; when a new one would come out I would reserve it at the library and when I finally got my hands on it I would generally finish it in an evening. Not that I am that fast a reader, they were just that easy to read. I think Parker listed Spenser's age in the first book (36 or so, I think), but stopped referring to it after a while, as it became increasingly preposterous that Spenser was still beating people in fights into his seventies. I believe one reviewer explained this contradiction away by describing Spenser as "timeless". But I very much enjoyed the dialogue in the books.

I find it interesting that in his early Spenser novels (in the 1980's) Parker addressed feminism, in a reasonably intelligent fashion. But after a while the Spenser novels settled into a sort of comfortable groove, not really trying to notice the social issues of the real world.

I'm not sure that Parker's recent work had the same snap of his early writing, although he had branched out, writing a series with a female detective "Sunny Randall", a series with an alcoholic ex-LA detective turned small town police chief "Jesse Stone", and a western series, as well as a one off about gunfight at the OK corral and Wyatt Earp. The first book or two in each of these series were very good, after which they settled into a groove similar to Spenser's. So I won't say that Parker's best writing was behind him, but he would have needed to challenge himself with yet a different character and setting to produce more really good writing.

Still, I, for one, will miss him.


Ilana D said...

I will miss Parker (and Spenser) too. And I'm not even a crime reader.

I was waiting for Parker to come to terms with Spenser's aging -- at what point can a detective no longer detect? And I'm sad we won't get to to see that.

How much do we want to see beloved characters change/age? And how much do we want them to remain "forever young?"

I wrote about some of this in my own blog yesterday at

EdHeath said...

I want to say that I think Parker allowing Spenser to grow old would have been compromising Spenser. I too wish Parker had allowed Spenser to grow old, but with Spenser's attitude, that would have meant that Parker would have had to allow Spenser to retire, or killed him off after Spenser mouthed off to someone too young and fast.

But Spenser was not about reality. Parker was probably that good a writer, but those weren't the stories he wanted to tell (for better reality, I like Scott Turow's stuff).

I guess I am getting old myself, some of my favorite writers have had issues. Douglas Adams died and Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I recommend their existing writing (along with Turow's) particularly for Adams a book titled "Last Chance to See".