Wednesday, January 20, 2010

R.I.P., Robert B. Parker

Robert Parker, the creator of the Boston-based PI, Spenser, and one of the more influential mystery writers of the last several decades, died yesterday. I learned about it today.

I didn't know the man, never had a chance to meet him. Others who knew him will write more personal farewells; you'll be able to find them online.

What I did know was his books. I've read every Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall novel, as well as most of his other work. He was a compulsively readable writer. Even though it's been a long time since he wrote anything much longer than a big novella--you could finish one of his books in a few hours of easy reading--and even though I thought he'd gotten repetitious and often self-indulgent, I read them all.

And I will miss them, and him. I'll miss the chance to hear Spenser tell us again how perfect Susan is. I'll miss the Spenser-Hawk banter; hell, I'll miss Hawk almost as much as Spenser, and sometimes more. I'll miss Jesse Stone mixing a drink and staring at the water. I'll even miss Sunny Randall, the weakest of the series leads.

I'm sure a few more books are in the pipeline, and I'll read them with both joy and an aching awareness that there will be no more from Parker.

Series fiction has a special power to let us live over a period of years in a world we know is not real and yet often wish was. Parker wielded that power at least well and often brilliantly.

Parker has over the last many years become a favorite target for many mystery writers at many conventions. Much of the criticism they leveled at him was fair, but still, as Harlan Coben said in a 2007 interview in The Atlantic, "When it comes to detective novels, 90 percent of us admit he's an influence, and the rest of us lie about it."

I'm not as upset as I was when John D. MacDonald died and I realized I would never again read a new Travis McGee venture, but I'm pretty damn sad about this.


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