Robert B. Parker was the author of more than 60 books including westerns and young-adult novels, but is best known for his detective novels featuring Boston private-eye Spenser. In recent years he introduced a new protagonist, Jesse Stone, an alcoholic ex-ballplayer turned small-town chief of police.
Parker's novels featuring the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye Spenser earned him a devoted following and reams of critical acclaim, typified by R.W.B. Lewis comment, "We are witnessing one of the great series in the history of the American detective story" (The New York Times Book Review).
"I read Parkers Spenser series in college," the best-selling writer Harlan Coben said in a 2007 interview with The Atlantic Monthly. "When it comes to detective novels, 90 percent of us admit he's an influence, and the rest of us lie about it."
Parker was born in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 17, 1932, the only child of working-class parents. His father worked for the telephone company. He attended Colby College in Maine, served with the Army in Korea, and then completed a Ph.D. in English at Boston University. He married his wife Joan in 1956; they raised two sons, David and Daniel. Together the Parkers founded Pearl Productions, a Boston-based independent film company named after their short-haired pointer, Pearl, who has also been featured in many of Parkers novels. He and Joan live in the Boston area.
He began writing his Spenser novels in 1971 while teaching at Boston's Northeastern University. Little did he suspect then that his witty, literate prose and psychological insights would make him keeper-of-the-flame of America's rich tradition of detective fiction. Parkers fictional Spenser inspired the ABC-TV series Spenser: For Hire. In February 2005, CBS-TV broadcast its highly-rated adaptation of the Jesse Stone novel Stone Cold, which featured Tom Selleck in the lead role as Parkers small-town police chief. The second CBS movie, Night Passage, also scored high ratings, and the third, Death in Paradise, aired on April 30, 2006.
He was named Grand Master of the 2002 Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America, an honor shared with earlier masters such as Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen.
He died of a heart attack at his home in Cambridge, Mass on January 18 2010, at the age of 77. Thought to be in good health, he died at his desk, working on a book - according to his agent of 37 years, Helen Brann, he wrote five pages a day, every day but Sunday.
Robert Brown Parker was a large man of large appetites that were nonetheless satisfied with relative ease. He was as unpretentious and self-aware as Spenser, his agent, Ms. Brann said.
"All he needed to be happy was his family and writing," she said. "There were always wonderful things in his refrigerator. People were always after him to do cookbooks."
He is survived by Joan, to whom he dedicated all his books, and his two sons, David and Daniel.
Robert Parker's website
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An Interview with Robert Parker
Your writing career began with the 1974 publication of The Godwulf Manuscript, the first of twenty-four titles in the Spenser series. Why do you think that Spenser has developed such a widespread, loyal following and is still so popular among readers?
I think people are drawn to Spenser because he's a very likeable man. He has many dimensions. He has important relationships, including an ongoing love relationship with Susan Silverman, a difficult, complicated, interesting woman. Spenser is beset by the same problems we all are, yet, being a bit larger than life, he triumphs over them in ways that we don't always. He can't be bribed, seduced with sex, or frightened with violence, and most of us can. Also, there's a persistence to him. Publishers always like to have an author who gives them a book a year. Readers do, too. Spenser is dependable in that way. He's around every year, growing and changing.
Spenser is a Boston P.I. You live in Boston. Your independent film company is named after your short-haired pointer, Pearl, who has also been featured in your last few Spenser novels. How much do you draw from your own experience in writing your novels?
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