Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Sign of Reason

Well, it looks as if Amazon has blinked first in its big e-book battle against mega-publisher Macmillan. An announcement posted this evening by the “Amazon Kindle team” reads:
Dear Customers:

Macmillan, one of the “big six” publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book. We don’t believe that all of the major publishers will take the same route as Macmillan. And we know for sure that many independent presses and self-published authors will see this as an opportunity to provide attractively priced e-books as an alternative.

Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!

Thank you for being a customer.
No need to rub Amazon’s nose in it. Let’s just call this good news for all those Macmillan authors whose work will once more be easily available through the giant online retailer.

READ MORE:Amazon Don’t Need Your Stinkin’ Books (Updated; Actually, We Do),” by Josh C. Abell (Wired); “Kindle Killer,” by Laura Miller (Salon).

Of Spats, Staats, and Spinoffs

Sorry to have been a bit quiet over these last few days, but I’m busily editing/rewriting somebody else’s book about one of America’s Founding Fathers. The project is educational, but it’s also taking a great deal of time to translate this academic prose into popular-history-style English. So for today, just a few quick hits:

• I hope that the juvenile pissing match now in progress between Amazon and mega-publisher Macmillan, concerning the pricing of e-books, will be over soon, and everybody can go back to buying and enjoying the works they want most. But the confrontation has certainly generated some interesting and heated responses. More on the matter here, here, here, here, here, and here.

• I was sorry to hear about the death on Friday, at age 80, of religious scholar and novelist Ralph McInerny. Among his numerous books were the Father Dowling mysteries, which became the basis for a 1987-1992 TV series starring Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson.

• Was The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (1966-1967), starring a young Stefanie Powers, really one of the 15 worst spinoff TV series of all time? Entertainment Weekly says so.

• We’re a little bit more than a month away from the screen debut in Philadelphia of Larry Withers’ documentary about American noir master David Goodis. Lou Boxer’s NoirCon blog has all the viewing details for March 5.

• While I’ve been hearing this same thing for, oh, the last five years, it seems that Cosmopolitan magazine has finally declared the death of the thong. Being a male with two appreciative eyes, I hope that Cosmo’s taste mavens are wrong.

Beat to a Pulp’s latest short-story offering is called “Angel of Mercy.” The author is David Price, “an ex-college jock and retired probation officer residing in California.”

• Evan Lewis is holding a mini-celebration of George Harmon Coxe’s fast-talking crime photographer, Flash (or Flashgun) Casey, in his blog, Davy Crockett’s Almanack. On Friday, he wrote about the 1946 short-story collection Flash Casey: Hard-boiled Detective. Yesterday, he featured an episode from the 1943-1950 radio drama series, Casey: Crime Photographer, starring Staats Cotsworth. (Listen to that here.) And today, he’s put up some pages from the four-issue run of the Casey, Crime Photogapher comic book.

• Still more on Flash Casey here.

• I might as well just quote this from Mystery Fanfare:Jedediah Berry has been named the winner of this year’s William L. Crawford Award for his first novel, The Manual of Detection. The award, presented annually at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, is designated for a new fantasy writer whose first book appeared the previous year. This year’s conference will be March 17-21 in Orlando, Fla.”

• Among the contents of Mike Ripley’s February “Getting Away with Murder” column for Shots: the DVD release of Whiteout, the 2009 Antarctica thriller starring “the pneumatic Kate Beckinsale”; new books by Henning Mankell, Sean Cregan, and Belinda Bauer; the mostly forgotten crime writer, John Milne (Daddy’s Girl); and a fond remembrance of Desmond Bagley. Read it all here.

• Laura Lippman’s best-known protagonist, Baltimore private investigator Tess Monaghan, may soon be headed for a TV screen near you. Meanwhile, according to the same report, written by Mystery Scene blogger Oline H. Cogdill, Charlie Huston “currently is working with HBO to develop a TV show based on Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. Alan Ball is the executive producer and that is good news as he’s the name behind True Blood.”

• Finally, I usually shy away from reading lists made by film stars and other celebrities. But I was curious to read about the six books Honor Blackman likes best. Blackman, of course, played John Steeds’s partner, Cathy Gale, in The Avengers, and Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Book You Have to Read: “The Body on the Bench,” by Dorothy B. Hughes

(Editor’s note: This is the 79th installment of our ongoing Friday blog series highlighting great but forgotten books. Today’s pick comes from Southern California author Jeri Westerson. The author of two historical novels featuring disgraced 14-century knight turned private investigator Crispin Guest [Veil of Lies and the Bruce Alexander Award-nominated Serpent in the Thorns], Westerson also blogs in Getting Medieval.)

If Ross Macdonald and James M. Cain are the Kings of Noir, then surely Dorothy B. Hughes is the Queen.

This is the woman who brought us In a Lonely Place (1947), which followed the psychological meanderings of a serial killer. She wrote pulp mysteries, as much as any of those stark novels could be called “pulp.” Hard to believe that these great stories were bought for a quarter and were never meant for library shelves.

I’ve always been fond of Hughes’ work. Her tales usually start off slow, allowing for the necessary details of her superb sense of place to emerge from the page. She keeps her stories localized, set in places like Los Angeles or Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Ride the Pink Horse (1946), we get a sweaty, close concoction of Santa Fe, and you are definitely there with the protagonist, schvitzing right along with him in the fiesta heat.

So when I came across this little book from 1952, The Body on the Bench, I assumed I’d be getting another noir mystery by one of the best of them. Instead, and to my surprise, the author gives us a sort of spy novel. This is all Hughes, though, from the descriptions of the Sunset Strip to the raw characters who populate the book. Getting the Hughes treatment means you’ll get characters with dense back stories, not just spear carriers.

In the novel, also published as The Davidian Report, we are yanked into the world of Steve Wintress--or is it Stefan Winterich?--fresh from Berlin. An agent, spy, whatever you wish to call him. He has a ruthless edge but with the patience of a sniper, biding his time till he can get ahold of this all-important document, the McGuffin that propels the action. Davidian is the man he needs to see and the report on him is in the hands of his contact, Albion. But while waiting for Wintress’ diverted plane, Albion is found dead (the titular body on the bench). Our spy then gets thrown in with a dubious crowd, including Haig Armour, who’s from the F.B.I.--or is he? He also meets up with dark little men, thick with accents and scared of the feds (“those Cossacks!”).

The trail for Davidian also leads Wintress to someone he had not wanted to find. The woman.

There’s always a dame.

She was a dancer in Berlin. Well, more than a dancer ... He knows he’s got to get close to her again because he’s certain she knows where Davidian is.

I like the details of Hollywood Boulevard in 1952, when this book was written. The Red Cars were still running in those days and the same chintzy Christmas decorations were hung from lamp posts then as now. And, we discover, men and women in California had abandoned wearing hats in 1952, unlike their East Coast counterparts, and only older women wore overcoats. It’s tidbits such as those that make historical fiction authors like me giddy.

I have an original Dell paperback edition of The Body on the Bench from ’52. I don’t know if there are better copies out there, but there are words and sometimes whole sentences missing from this imprint. Bad copy editing. It’s annoying and a bit confusing, but it’s also not crucial. Whaddya want for 25 cents?

The plot is heavy on dialogue, which is fine by me and also fine for Hollywood. Actor Robert Montgomery, on his TV show Robert Montgomery Presents, produced an episode entitled “The Davidian Report” in November of 1952. With only cursory research, I’m almost willing to bet that it was an episode on television first before it was novelized, or at least novelized at the same time, since the book came out the same year and has the subtitle “The Davidian Report.”

At any rate, this is a top-notch Hughes tale. Set against the backdrop of postwar anxiety, The Body on the Bench strikes a nerve with Cold War murmurs of the Communist threat. What secrets does Davidian know? Where is he? Who wants him? The body on the bench knew, but now he’s dead. More have to die to keep the secrets safe, and in the meantime, get on your running shoes, ’cause you’ll be trotting along with Wintress before time runs out.

Good Books Are Always in Style

It’s Friday again, time for another education in crime-fiction publishing’s history, courtesy of all those contributors to the weekly “forgotten books” series.

In addition to Jeri Westerson’s review on this page of The Body on the Bench, by Dorothy B. Hughes, today’s other touted titles include: The Nebraska Quotient, by William J. Reynolds; Suddenly at His Residence, by Christianna Brand; The Window with the Sleeping Nude, by Robert Leslie Bellem; The Death of a Joyce Scholar, by Bartholomew Gill; Flash Casey: Hard-boiled Detective, by George Harmon Coxe; Campus Doll, by Edwin West; Portraits of Murder, edited by Alfred Hitchcock; Suspects, by David Thomson; and not one, but two considerations of Harry Whittington’s 1958 novel, The Web of Murder, by Mike Dennis and George Kelley.

Series organizer Patti Abbott offers a full list of this day’s participants in her own blog, plus other books worth rediscovering, among them Milton T. Burton’s The Sweet and the Dead.

Write This Way, Folks

Would you like to win free entry into the 2010 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, set to take place in Harrogate, England, from July 22 to 25? Well, there is a way. All you need do is pen a short story. Author and program chair Stuart MacBride will even feed you the first line. Simply write the next 2,000 to 5,000 words. What could be easier, right?

The deadline for entries is noon on May 16.

This contest is being sponsored by Britain’s Alibi TV. As it explains, “Three finalists will win tickets to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate (with travel and accommodation included), where they’ll get the chance to rub shoulders with leading authors and agents of the crime writing world. The winner will be announced during the weekend and will win a Sony e-reader, a library of 100 crime books including a signed Stuart MacBride back catalogue and they’ll also see their story turned into a special online, downloadable e-edition by HarperCollins.”

Click here for more details and to enter this competition. Sorry, but it seems that only UK residents can participate.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Ross

Last September we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which featured Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two of the American West’s best-known outlaws. Today we commemorate the 70th birthday of the third star of that 1969 film, Katharine Ross, who played Etta Place.

Wow, can this really be? The Hollywood-born Ross--who also appeared as Elaine Robinson in the 1967 film The Graduate, a murder suspect in the 1972 James Garner TV film They Only Kill Their Masters, a shocked suburban spouse in The Stepford Wives (1975), and Gretel Howard in the 1983 TV pilot film Travis McGee--is now 70 years old? I’m afraid I shall always envisage her in your younger days.

A full rundown of Ross’ film and TV roles is here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Cross Worth Bearing

I have to admit that the name “Neil Cross” wasn’t a familiar one to me, at least until early last year, when bestselling crime-fictionist Peter James recommended that I pick up Burial, Cross’ first foray into this genre. Cross (shown on the right in this photo, with yours truly) had previously penned half a dozen other novels of the more literary sort, together with a childhood memoir titled Heartland (2005). He’d been lauded by the London literati, and long-listed for the distinguished Man Booker Prize. None of that, however, commended him to a genre hound like me.

And then I learned that he was the lead writer for the BBC-TV series Spooks (U.S. title: MI5), one of the few TV shows I take the time to watch.

Suddenly the man had cred.

I’m so glad that I finally gave his work a chance. Burial (which is due to be released in the States in March by Forge) is a wonderful gem, and an uneasy tale of the consequences paving our lives. This simple, amoral yarn could have been plucked from the dark imaginations of Patricia Highsmith or Barbara Vine. During a party thrown by an obnoxious right-wing radio host, one of his employees, the definitively unaccomplished journalist, Nathan, encounters another loser named Bob. After getting stoned, they head out to a parked car with an equally out-of-it young woman, Elise, and engage in a ménage à trios. The trouble is, Elise winds up dead at the end of this encounter. The two men decide, in their brilliance, that the best thing to do is bury Elise’s body and then head back to the party, as if nothing untoward had happened. But Nathan’s conscience thereafter plagues him with images of the deceased. Years pass and Nathan partners with another woman who can keep his ghosts at bay. But then one day, Bob steps back into Nathan’s life, warning him that builders are about to start construction of a social housing project on the wasteland that conceals Elise’s remains.

While this plot sounds like something of a cliché, Cross rescues it from that fate by deftly exploring the strained relationship between Nathan and Bob, as they deal with the aftermath of their long-ago actions. As in Highsmith’s best work, there is dark comedy at play here, combined with Cross’ fascinating view inside the personal hell that is Nathan’s fevered mind. Burial’s climax is splendidly choreographed and cathartic, bringing closure for both Nathan and readers who’ve given themselves over to the narrative.

After enjoying Burial so much, I just had to read Cross’ follow-up: Captured, another urban thriller, being published this month in Britain by Simon & Schuster. Like its predecessor, Captured contains a plot that, in less-skilled hands, might have come off as unoriginal. It focuses on a portrait painter named Kenny, who has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He has mere weeks to live, so he decides to find the four individuals who helped add meaning to his life over the years, and thank them before he kicks off.

The first two people he seeks out are fairly insignificant, though Cross freights Kenny’s get-togethers with them with such compassion and meaning, it makes you stop and think about your own existence, and how some people you’ve interacted with at random actually made dents in your reality. The third person on Kenny’s benevolence list is his former wife, Mary. And the fourth ... well, it’s a girl who showed him extraordinary kindness when he was simply a lonely, misfit schoolboy, Callie Barton.

Kenny’s efforts to locate the fondly remembered Callie lead him along a dangerous path. He discovers that his old school chum has in fact vanished. Her husband may or may not have murdered her. With the clock of cancer ticking down in Kenny’s brain, he sets out to pay back a kindness by taking the law into his own hands.

I read Captured, with its short chapters, in just two sittings. Cross avoids detailed descriptions and expositions; nonetheless, his spare sentences left unsettling and very real-seeming pictures in my mind. The author’s sympathy for humans in trouble is manifest. And his tale’s anxiety level heightens as Kenny’s trip to the grave grows shorter, and the truth about Callie Barton becomes clouded in murky morality. This is one book that ought not to be missed.

Thanks to his publisher, Simon & Schuster, I had a chance to speak with Cross not only about his books, but also on the subjects of Marvel Comics, Patricia Highsmith, his screenwriting work, and his entry into the crime-fiction genre.

Ali Karim: Considering that you’re renowned for both your screenwriting and your novels, let me ask: Which came first?

Neil Cross: The novels, I guess, because I’m a novelist “by trade.” But that being said, I really became a novelist by writing comics when I was a kid. I wrote my own superhero comics in my youth, which, looking back, is not that far removed from screenwriting, if you understand storyboarding.

AK: So you like comics. Marvel? DC? Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, all of that stuff?

NC: Absolutely, I think Steve Ditko’s Machine Man is a great under-appreciated classic.

AK: That’s a surreal coincidence. Last year, during the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, I interviewed Robert Crais, and we talked about his love of American comics. It turns out that his first published work--like my own--was a letter in Marvel comics, and we both won the No-Prize.

NC: Very cool! For me, Marvel comics taught me a great deal about storytelling, about character [development], about conflict. In fact, I have to say that anything of worth I learned as a fiction writer came from Marvel comics.

AK: Would you care to give some examples? For instance, what about Frank Miller’s Daredevil?

NC: Absolutely. Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil in the 1980s was seminal. There’s one [comic] in particular, when Daredevil faced a really psychotic villain …I think he was called The Gladiator.

AK: Speaking of psychopathic villains, what about Bullseye? Kingpin?

NC: They were well-known; The Gladiator was someone who was really not a well-known super villain, and the fight was in a museum; a battle in which there were no words, just art. It was beautiful, and I remember that in my opinion [it] was the first emergence of Frank Miller as Frank Miller, now better known for his film work on Robocop II and III, The 300, Sin City, The Spirit, etc.

AK: Miller also did a couple of early Batman comics before Daredevil, and well before The Dark Knight and Batman Year One. Sorry, I could talk about comics--especially Frank Miller’s comics--for years, as I met him back in the 1980s in London. Do you remember when he wrote an issue in which Daredevil fought The Hulk? Can you imagine a blind guy taking on The Hulk?

NC: Hey, that was one of my favorite comics ever, Daredevil fighting The Hulk. That brings back great memories, man. I remember that Daredevil got the shit kicked out of him.

AK: And at one point, he’s flung out of a moving subway train.

NC: Yes, you really feel the violence of that almost absurd situation--a blind superhero heroically battling something as menacing and as powerful as The Hulk. And they started the next issue in a hospital--genius, sheer genius.

AK: Sorry we’ve digressed. So, back to Neil Cross. After several non-genre novels you penned Burial, which knocked my socks off. The book carried the same themes of morality and trust that, incidentally, are also themes you mine in the BBC-TV espionage series, Spooks. Would you agree that morality and trust are themes of special interest to you?

NC: Absolutely. One thing that interests me about American crime fiction, particularly, is it has a unifying theme--it is “free will exercised as sin.” This is opposed to much British crime fiction, especially during the Golden Age, which is about the restoration of order; someone’s been killed, things are out of whack, for Christ’s sake let’s get things back to normal, so things can run smoothly. I’m more interested in “free will exercised as sin,” as opposed to the “restoration of order.”

AK: I’m guessing you must have read Patricia Highsmith, then.

NC: I’m obsessed by Patricia Highsmith.

AK: [Laughing] So am I. I am totally obsessed with her Tom Ripley books. In fact, I have what my wife terms my white “Tom Ripley suit.” Coincidentally, a number of critics have described your first novel, Burial, as being distinctly Hitchcockian. And it was Hitchcock, of course, who made a movie from Highsmith’s 1950 debut novel, Strangers on a Train.

NC: Yes, there’s a psychological marriage between Hitchcock and Highsmith; they suit each other very well.

AK: So, going back to Highsmith, is it just her Tom Ripley novels that you enjoy, or do you find pleasure in her other amoral tales?

NC: I’ve read many of her books and short stories, though not all of her canon, and of course there are a few that are just not up to her best work. But one non-Ripley novel that sticks to my mind is Cry of the Owl [1962], which features a woman who falls in love with her own stalker. It would barely be publishable today, but in Highsmith’s world it makes perfect sense.

AK: The weird thing about Patricia Highsmith was that she was highly acclaimed in Europe, but rather less so in her native America; in fact, she lived for many years in the UK before making Switzerland her home. Maybe Tom Ripley was the precursor to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the amoral, but charming psychopath/sociopath--the sort of figure who doesn’t settle as well in the American psyche as he does in the European one.

NC: That links to my theme of “free will exercised as sin,” [something that] must be punished. And Highsmith just doesn’t punish, she observes; in fact she was known to sign books as Tom Ripley from time to time.

AK: Going back to Burial, the two main characters in that book, Nathan and Bob, are not very appealing as protagonists go, but the book is certainly riveting. How did you manage to pull off such an engaging story with two unattractive leads?

NC: That in itself was a difficult contrivance. Part of the genesis of Burial was to see if I could make characters as amoral as Patricia Highsmith did, and get away with it; and to some extent that answer was no, because I just couldn’t, as I am so exercised by morality, but I can write about guilt. So to a degree Burial was an intellectual challenge to see what I could get away with and still make people side with the main characters.

AK: Well you pulled it off. Burial definitely drags you along, even though there are moments that make you cringe.

NC: Thank you, you’re very kind.

AK: I hear that, while you were born and reared in Great Britain, you relocated to Wellington, New Zealand with your wife, Nadya, and your family. How long have you lived in New Zealand?

NC: Six years now.

AK: And how exactly did you get hooked up with Spooks? Did you know that series’ writer and creator, David Woolstencroft?

NC: No, it was a series of accidents and coincidences. In order to teach myself to write screenplays, I adapted my [2004] novel, Always the Sun, and the right people saw it. I had a literary agent and that helped get the script read. A film and TV agent then agreed to take me on, and he took my screenplay of Always the Sun to several people, who all liked it and that got me the job to write for Spooks.

AK: Since Spooks doesn’t offer any credits on screen, I have to ask which episodes you’ve penned.

NC: Well, I did episode 9 on series 5, and then I became the lead writer on series 6 and 7.

AK: I watch very little television, but Spooks is a must-see for me. I was captivated by the two-parter in series 7, in which the Mossad agents impersonated the Arabs in the embassy siege. That was like a mini-movie, with the end sequence when the lead Mossad agent is sent to Guantanamo Bay--truly mesmerizing.

NC: Thank you, it means a lot to me.

AK: But how do you manage to write Spooks while living in the South Pacific? Tell us a little about the writing process for that series.

NC: Well, I’d come to London for the initial story conferences, where I would sit with the producers and a couple of the other writers in a room, and we’d discuss what the stories for the series would be. These conferences would be really broad brushstrokes, themes, so for the most recent series I was very interested in exploring Cold War themes, which the producers were very responsive to and interested in. Then, from these brushstrokes, we’d discuss what would happen to the characters during the series, and what we’d like to do to them, [again] in very broadstrokes. An example would be, I’d like to see this character fail, so what would that character do in a situation like this … And from these broad outlines, you’d come up with story ideas. But specific episodes appear by a mysterious process, which I don’t really fully understand. It’s part inspiration, part algebra, and part sheer reading of the news.

AK: I recall the Spooks series that focused on Iran. It was bang up to the minute, in terms of what was happening in the real world.

NC: Well, Spooks is an entity, and not attributed to any particular person. What it has to be, in order to be a success, is to be one step ahead of the news broadcasts. This means that we almost have to predict, when were writing it, what’s going to be in the news … The hit rate is not 100 percent, but it is remarkably high.

AK: But hey, you had the episode all about a financial crisis, about the run on that British bank. I thought, Holy shit, do these writers on Spooks have sources among the “men behind the curtain”?

NC: [Laughing] Precisely. You do find yourself reading newspapers more intently when you’re gearing up to write a series of Spooks, and you just look for throbs of the future.

AK: Pardon the pun, but it is rather spooky! But back to the subject of your books. You have another one coming out, right?

NC: The next one’s finished--Captured, out this month. And although it’s very different to Burial, it delves into similar territory.

AK: More trust and morality themes?

NC: Yes, trust and morality and the terrible things we do for love.

Bullet Points: Pre-SOTU Edition

• Jim Winter’s review of The Bricklayer, the debut thriller by Noah Boyd, appears today in January Magazine. Look for it here.

• While the death of actor Pernell Roberts on Sunday (he was 81 years old) reminded others of his years on Bonanza and Trapper John, M.D., it sent me off to reacquaint myself with his many guest-starring roles on TV crime and mystery dramas. Ivan G. Shreve Jr. reminded me that he appeared over the decades on Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Banacek, Ironside, and Mannix. But Roberts was also seen on The Name of the Game, Police Story, Ellery Queen, Bronk, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, Switch, The Streets of San Francisco, The Rockford Files, Quincy, M.E., and Diagnosis: Murder. Those are in addition, of course, to the parts he played in westerns and other non-mystery series. Quite a résumé to toss around.

Moralizing hard-liners never cease to embarrass themselves.

• A quartet of interviews worth reading: The first, with old-hand novelist Ed Gorman (Ticket to Ride), can be found in John Kenyon’s Things I’d Rather Be Doing blog; then Gorman turns around and quizzes J.T. Ellison about her forthcoming paperback release, The Cold Room; Gorman also takes on critic and novelist Jon L. Breen; and J. Sydney Jones talks with Leighton Gage, author of the new Brazil-set mystery, Dying Gasp.

• From an article in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine:
Like most authors, James Patterson started out with one book, released in 1976, that he struggled to get published. It sold about 10,000 copies, a modest, if respectable, showing for a first novel. Last year, an estimated 14 million copies of his books in 38 different languages found their way onto beach blankets, airplanes and nightstands around the world. Patterson may lack the name recognition of a Stephen King, a John Grisham or a Dan Brown, but he outsells them all. Really, it’s not even close. (According to Nielsen BookScan, Grisham’s, King’s and Brown’s combined U.S. sales in recent years still don’t match Patterson’s.) This is partly because Patterson is so prolific: with the help of his stable of co-authors, he published nine original hardcover books in 2009 and will publish at least nine more in 2010.
You will find the whole piece here.

• With tonight bringing President Obama’s first State of the Union (SOTU) address, it’s appropriate that Julie Hyzy, author of the White House Chef mysteries, should provide this week’s entry in the My Book, the Movie blog. Look for her casting suggestions here.

• Busted Flush Press’ 2010 release schedule includes multiple works by Zoë Sharp and Daniel Woodrell, and the first U.S. publication of Donna Moore’s Old Dogs.

• While the rest of the crime-fiction world seems to be championing the late Robert B. Parker, blogger Allen Appel offers some lightly dissenting remarks.

Ah, Casablanca.

I, for one, have never heard the 1950-1951 radio drama The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, starring Sydney Greenstreet (who, coincidentally, appeared in Casablanca). However, it appears I now have my chance.

• There are just over three months left before the beginning of Malice Domestic XXII in Arlington, Virginia.

More Texas textbook craziness.

• Michael Connelly’s third Mickey Haller novel, The Reversal, won’t go on sale until much later this year. But the author just e-mailed this synopsis to his fans:
Longtime defense attorney Mickey Haller is recruited to change sides and prosecute the high-profile retrial of a brutal child murder. After 24 years in prison, convicted killer Jason Jessup has been exonerated by new DNA evidence. Haller is convinced Jessup is guilty, and he takes the case on the condition that he gets to choose his investigator, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch. Together, Bosch and Haller set off on a case fraught with political and personal danger. Opposing them is Jessup, now out on bail, a defense attorney who excels at manipulating the media, and a runaway eyewitness reluctant to testify after so many years. With the odds and the evidence against them, Bosch and Haller must nail a sadistic killer once and for all. If Bosch is sure of anything, it is that Jason Jessup plans to kill again.
• Wow, I’ll have to find this Ellery Queen novel sometime.

• In what many readers see as a blow to crime-fiction coverage in Canada, the prestigious Globe and Mail newspaper has decided to discontinue carrying critic Margaret Cannon’s regular books column in its print edition, and publish it only online. In a recent note to DorothyL listserv members, author R.J. Harlick wrote:
We believe most people would only read Margaret’s column as part of their Saturday perusal of the printed version of the newspaper and would not take that extra step of reading it online. Moreover many readers of mysteries are in their senior years and aren’t necessarily nimble with computers and the Internet.

If you are a fan of Margaret Cannon’s column and don’t see yourself taking that extra step, we’re asking that you let the Globe & Mail know. You can show your support by joining the Facebook group Don’t Let the Globe & Mail Bury Canadian Crime Fiction and by sending e-mails to the editors, John Stackhouse, and Erika Lang, Hopefully if enough people let them know they want her column back in the print edition, they will pay attention.
• “Who penned the bestselling detective story of the 1800s?” asks Craig Sisterson of Crime Watch blog fame. “Go on, guess ... Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Wilkie Collins? Edgar Allan Poe?” You might be surprised by the answer.

Is this really the “greatest noir song ever”?

• No wonder people think right-wingers are insensitive ...

• Finally, in the latest installment of his Bookgasm column, “Bullets, Broad, Blackmail & Bombs,” Bruce Grossman takes on a quartet of super spies and features a truly cheesy clip of David Hasselhoff starring as Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Click here.

Fancy Yourself a Code Cracker?

British fans of Murdoch Mysteries, the two-year-old Canadian TV crime drama based on Maureen Jennings’ series of novels about police detectives in Victorian Toronto, should take note of this contest, sponsored by the Alibi channel:
Murdoch Mysteries series 3 is coming to Alibi on 16 February, and to celebrate we’re giving you the chance to win tickets to an exclusive preview screening of the first episode at London’s prestigious Soho Hotel.

Lucky winners will be greeted on arrival with a glass of champagne, and special guests Thomas Craig and Lisa Faulkner will also make a guest appearance!

For your chance to win tickets, simply unlock this page by cracking the code

Can you figure out the question hidden in this code?






P Y I G W O D E 1 ?

Is it his ...?
a. Wife
b. Memory
c. Notebook

For a clue to crack the code, click here.

Entrants must be over 18, see the competition entry page for full terms and conditions. The competition closes on Tuesday 9th February at 23:59 and the winners will be notified
within 24 hours.
Unfortunately, this contest is open only to UK residents.

Living as I do in the United States, I’ve never had the opportunity to see Murdoch Mysteries. But the video clips I have been able to watch make it look intriguing. Maybe by the time the show has completed its run everywhere else, some American network or syndication company will finally decide to let the rest of us in on the fun.

By the way, the third series of Murdoch Mysteries is set to begin airing on Canada’s CityTV on Friday, March 5.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Looking for Robert B. Parker: A Fond Farewell to the Man Who Saved P.I. Fiction, Part II

(Editor’s note: Following the unexpected death last week of detective novelist Robert B. Parker, 77, Rap Sheet contributor Cameron Hughes asked dozens of Parker’s colleagues, friends, and critics to share their thoughts on his legacy. Part I of this tribute appeared here.)

Craig Johnson, Wyoming author of the Walt Longmire series (The Cold Dish, Kindness Goes Unpunished, and The Dark Horse):

People in the mystery genre rarely talk about humor, but when they do they mention the man from Boston--that and the dialogue. Nobody was better. Robert B. Parker could put two characters discussing detergent in a Laundromat, and it would still compel and make you laugh.

He once remarked that he’d been in the infantry in Korea, but that the worst people he’d ever met were [those he met] during his tenure as an associate professor at Northeastern University. After the success of The Godwulf Manuscript in 1973, he rolled a yellow piece of paper into his typewriter and wrote, simply and elegantly, “I quit.”

He went on to resurrect the private-eye genre in the later part of the 20th century, no mean feat, with an admixture of tough-guy sensitivity and most of all, humor.

When my first book, The Cold Dish, was getting published, Viking/Penguin asked me if I knew any writers who would be willing to write me a blurb. I didn’t even know what a blurb was, but they had me contact Bob and ask if he’d be willing. Not only did he say he’d be willing to read it, but he delivered the pronouncement that now rests on the cover of my debut novel--in 72 hours.

I wrote him a thank-you note; old school. He wrote back in the return mail; old school. He talked about coming to Wyoming (the birthplace of his character Spenser) and doing some fishing. I assured him that both the fish and I were here, waiting. He never did. The responsibilities of three books a year and three dozen novels in the Spenser series kept him at his desk.

He died at that desk, and I’m sure that’s the way he would’ve wanted it. The other thing I’m sure of is that it was a line of dialogue he was writing when he passed; and I bet it was funny, some pithy remark from Spenser’s mouth, and that he laughed himself into that great beyond. That’s the way I like to think of Robert B. Parker going.

Robert Ward, the author of Total Immunity:

Robert Parker was one of my favorite writers. Parker proved you actually could create a character who was tough, a student of literature and life, a great cook, and a man of substance who had a bright girlfriend, Susan Silverman. His alter ego, Hawk, was the best of [modern detective fiction’s] bodyguard, tough-guy buddies and Spenser’s relationship with the cops was believable, and funny. In fact, Parker was one of the funniest writers ever. One of the toughest of all things to do is be funny and still keep things suspenseful. Outside of Chandler and Elmore Leonard, Parker was the hippest wit of them all. Often, while reading his books, I’d stop and read some of his wonderful dialogue to my wife, who dug the lines as much as I did. He was one of the best ever, and I believe many of his books will last.

Gerald So, co-editor of The Lineup: Poems on Crime, fiction editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site, and moderator of the online Parker discussion group, Spenser’s Sneakers:

Looking back, I can think of no better writer with whom to fall in love with mystery, poetry, depth, the resonance of language, than Robert B. Parker.

Lee Goldberg, Los Angeles screenwriter and author of the Monk TV tie-in novels (Mr. Monk in Trouble):

I was lucky enough to meet [Parker] on several occasions. The last time was way back in 2002, at the Edgar [Awards presentation], when he was named Grand Master [by the Mystery Writers of America] and I was nominated for a Nero Wolfe episode. We had a very nice conversation about writing for TV and the P.I. genre. Parker revitalized and transformed the traditional P.I. with Spenser, replacing [Philip] Marlowe and [Lew] Archer as the yardstick that every new P.I. character is measured against. And for good reason, since Parker’s influence has been evident in them all and will be for a long time to come.

Linwood Barclay, the author of Never Look Away:

I always bought Robert B. Parker in hardcover. I loved the much-griped-about white space, the short chapters, the simple but effective cover designs. They had such a nice heft to them, these books. They were the literary equivalent of a ridiculously expensive dessert--they didn’t last long, but they were such a pleasure. After reading some bloated, overwritten, description-sogged novel, I longed for a Parker. He was fun. And even if his later books were not quite up to the standard he’d set in Early Autumn--one of my favorite novels in any genre--Spenser and Susan and Hawk were family. I wanted to know what they were up to, and I loved to hear them talk in my head. And Parker could still surprise--Appaloosa [2005] was perhaps his finest work in 20 years. I feel the way I did when we lost Ross Macdonald and Ed McBain. Very sad.

Cara Black, author of Murder in the Palais Royal:

I heard Robert B. Parker died at his desk. Writing. They don’t breed writers like Parker anymore. It’s sad and a loss, but I think he would be happy to have gone like that. Writing to the end. The only time we ever briefly intersected was on NPR [National Public Radio] during an interview, and listeners were invited to call in. Somehow my call managed to get through and I was so dumbstruck I mumbled something about how I admired his work and was driving back from a San Francisco Mystery Writers of America meeting in ... in ... of course I forgot everything and mumbled the Dashiell Hammett place ... uh, the restaurant where he wrote and where there’s a copy of the Maltese Falcon.

Without skipping a beat, Parker said, “John’s Grill, of course.”

Brian M. Wiprud, the author of Feelers:

[Parker was] a seminal crime writer, and an inspiration to a generation of authors in his wake.

Dave White, author of The Evil That Men Do:

Very few people inspired me to write like Robert B. Parker did. His sense of style and the ease in which the characters reveal themselves to the reader were something to strive for. Spenser novels always read like a visit with an old, tough, and funny friend. I’ll miss him.

Sam Reaves, the author of Mean Town Blues:

Nobody did the literate, humane but tough-as-nails private eye better than Robert B. Parker. He showed us what crime fiction can do, and raised our standards.

Charles Ardai, the editor of Hard Case Crime:

I came to Robert Parker’s work fairly late, just in the last 10 years, but enjoyed it quite a lot; every time I read one of his books I was struck by how satisfying his prose was, like a good meal when you’re nice and hungry. Writing like that is deceptive--it looks so simple, so plainspoken, so effortlessly entertaining. But just try to write like that. It takes quite a lot of effort, and quite a lot of talent.

Though he didn’t start writing novels until the 1970s, Parker grew up in the era that Hard Case Crime celebrates and I think of him as someone who had the soul of an old-time pulp writer (needless to say, I mean this as a compliment). I always nursed a faint hope that perhaps we’d get to work with him some day, in some fashion, and it makes me very sad to know it’ll never be.

My heart goes out to his family and friends and fans.

Louise Penny, author of The Brutal Telling:

Robert Parker didn’t just create a great, tragic hero in Spenser, he inspired a lot of what is now modern crime fiction. He showed it was possible for a character to be complex, thoughtful, poetic--but also brutal. To have a nobility, and a street-sense. His Spenser was a great creation, and will far outlive his creator. This is a sad day. If crime fiction was Broadway, our lights would dim tonight. A luminary has passed.

Joe R. Lansdale, bestselling Texas author of the Hap Collins and Leonard Pine novels (Vanilla Ride):

Robert Parker was someone who, even when I felt I had read the story before, or something like it, kept me reading, kept me coming back to his work. He reinvented the private-eye field and gave it new life, and changed the direction of crime fiction. I’m sad he’s gone, but what a way to go, working at your desk.

Wallace Stroby, author of The Barbed-Wire Kiss and Gone ’til November:

It was easy to lose sight of in the years that followed, but that initial run of Spenser novels in the ’70s and early ’80s was quite a feat. Early Autumn is one of the 10 best American private-eye novels ever.

J.A. Konrath, the author of Cherry Bomb:

The very first mystery I ever read was Mr. Parker’s The Judas Goat [1978], and it had such an impact on my 9-year-old self that I was 100 percent sure, when I grew up, I was going to become a semi-pro boxer/wisecracking Boston private eye. That didn’t work out, and I became a mystery writer instead. I’m forever indebted to Mr. Parker for his influence on my own writing, and his impact on the entire mystery genre. He will be deeply missed, but his work will never be forgotten. He was, and always will be, the best of the best.

Gar Anthony Haywood, the author of Cemetery Road:

Robert B. Parker was the hard-boiled writer we all wish to become when we first start out. He had everything: talent, success, and an output that lent the impression it all came easy to him. But Parker was no lightweight; his best Spenser novels are as smart and efficient as any ever written within the P.I. subgenre. His readership was hard-earned and, even more impressive, well deserved.

José Latour, Cuban novelist, author of Crime of Fashion:

The world loses a master of hard-boiled crime fiction. He will be missed and remembered by millions.

Mark Coggins, the San Francisco author of The Big Wake-Up:

If Raymond Chandler made me want to be a private-eye writer, Robert Parker inspired me to really try. It was after reading a used copy of The Godwulf Manuscript in the early ’80s that I sat down at my typewriter for the first time after college to write fiction. I still have that copy of Goldwulf, but what I prize even more is my signed copy of the version of the novel that appeared in Argosy. Godspeed Mr. Parker, Spenser, Susan, and Hawk.

Victor Gischler, author of the forthcoming novel, The Deputy:

A great loss to the mystery community. Quite a surprise when I heard about it this morning. I heard he died at his desk while writing. If I’m still writing and publishing when I’m 77, I’ll count myself lucky.

Steve Brewer, the author of Cutthroat:

One of mystery’s grand masters is gone. Robert B. Parker inspired us all with his work ethic and his long, productive career. Spenser, Hawk, and his other characters will live forever.

Don Bruns, the author of Stuff to Spy For:

I [once] signed with him ... sitting right next to the guy. He had 150 people, I had five. He looked at me and said, “Hey, I’m signing next to you. We need a picture of that.” So he suggested we hold up our name cards and look like two criminals posing for a mug shot. (It’s on my Web site.)

Robert Parker was a true craftsman. He took his work seriously and worked as hard as anyone in the business. He was also a gentle man and will be greatly missed.

James R. Benn, the author of Evil for Evil:

Robert B. Parker was the über-master of deceptive simplicity. I so admired his talent that I had to work to keep my early writing from appearing to be an imitation, if only to not look foolish.

Max Allan Collins, the author of Quarry in the Middle and co-author (with Mickey Spillane) of the forthcoming Mike Hammer novel, The Big Bang:

I admit to not being a fan of Robert B. Parker’s. His style was never one I connected with. But I have always fought for him to receive recognition, because without his innovation and success, the mystery field--in particular the private-eye genre--might have stagnated. He re-energized the P.I. novel, paving the way for a new wave of detectives, who were often connected with a city like Boston that had been otherwise ignored as a setting for such a story, and made possible the boom of female private eyes as well. Perhaps 10 years ago, I met him at a University of Iowa speaking engagement, where as the sort of resident Iowa tough-detective writer I was brought around ahead of time to pay my respects. He was gracious to me, very friendly, and at least pretended to know who I was. We spoke of Mickey Spillane, with whom he’d done several TV appearances, and he warmly shared his memories of Mickey, two men who jump-started private-eye fiction in their respective eras. By the way, he was a terrific speaker that evening--funny and low-key and fine. Writers like me owe him a debt. Thank you, Mr. Parker.

Cornelia Read, author of the forthcoming Invisible Boy:

What a tremendous loss for all of us who so admired the man’s inimitable style and wit--as readers and as writers. I read today that Parker once said he began writing because he missed reading about Chandler’s Philip Marlowe so much. I have no doubt that his own creative legacy will provide equally profound inspiration for generations of authors to come.

Peter Abrahams, author of the forthcoming Bullet Point:

He gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people and made it look easy. Hard to do better than that.

John Vorhaus, author of the March release, The California Roll:

Parker taught us all how to put cool on the page.

Robert J. Randisi, founder of the Private Eye Writers of America and author of the “Rat Pack Mysteries,” the latest of which is You’re Nobody ’til Somebody Kills You:

Parker created one of the most famous characters in P.I. fiction with Spenser. He also gave birth to Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone, but I believe his other major accomplishment was in creating an iconic sidekick in Hawk. Hawk is the yardstick by which all other sidekicks--Robert Crais’ Joe Pike, Harlan Coban’s Win, Andrew Vacchs’ Max, etc.--are measured, and always will be. It’s anybody’s guess why there were never any Hawk novels.

Tim Dorsey, who wrote Gator A-Go-Go:

It is very sad news. We’ve lost a genuine giant and a great voice--
far too soon.

Jeffrey Cohen, the author of A Night at the Operation:

I was, and remain, a big fan of his writing, and started thinking about writing crime fiction myself when I read his work. I’ll miss him a lot.

John Weagly, author of The Undertow of Small Town Dreams:

Mystery writer Robert B. Parker died yesterday at the age of 77. He was just “sitting at his desk.” Not a bad way to go for a writer who put out three books a year, who wrote five to 10 pages a day. He was one of the great ones, one of those writers who gave the private-eye novel several standards that we take for granted now. And if he didn’t invent a new element, he certainly made it popular. I haven’t read a lot of his stuff. I started reading the Spenser books in 2001, going in order, trying to read a novel a year. This always felt like a strange way to work through the canon. I think of these works as “popcorn books”--I can usually finish a Spenser in one or two sittings and then immediately be ready for more. I spaced them out because I knew from experience that rushing through an author and reading too much too soon can be a bad thing. Tonight I’ll be starting A Savage Place [1981]. And, who knows, maybe after that I’ll throw my one-a-year rule out the window and dive into the next one.

Chris Knopf, the author of Hard Stop and Short Squeeze:

If you want to learn how to write clever, witty, erudite, and occasionally very powerful dialogue, all you have to do is study Robert Parker. Nobody did it better.

Robert Ferrigno, the author of Sins of the Assassin and Heart of the Assassin:

I was deeply saddened to hear that Robert B. Parker has checked out. Being good is hard enough, but he was good for 37 years, tapping into a near inexhaustible creativity. His Spenser books will be read for as long as there are readers, both for their wit and their insight into 20th-century life, and most of all for his characters--Spenser, Hawk, and Susan. The only good part of his Associated Press obit was the line “Mr. Parker died at his desk.” We should all be so lucky.

James O. Born, the author of Burn Zone:

Bob Parker had an aura that only comes with time, experience, and success. He will be missed and I doubt anyone will ever have the same kind of mojo.

David Fulmer, the author of Lost River:

Parker achieved what we all aspire to: transcendence through the simple, direct, visible, and audible. He dealt in the kind of concrete language that left no doubt about his certainty. While he cut with a dirty blade, what he carved out was all the better for it.

Reed Farrel Coleman, the co-author (with Ken Bruen) of Tower:

I had tremendous respect for the man’s work, but at times like these I always find myself thinking about more personal things. I met Mr. Parker only once, at Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge during her annual Christmas party. He was a complete gentleman. He was kind enough to take a minute with me and ask about my work and wish me a happy holiday in a very crowded place full of people wanting his attention. Things like that stay with me.

Ken Bruen, the co-author (with Reed Farrel Coleman) of Tower:

For over 20 years, RP has provided me with wondrous entertainment.

The Spenser novels were so seemingly simple yet rich in their constant structure, and each time you got the new Parker, you knew you were in for hours of pure entertainment. Plus, he was a gentleman in the truest sense. A pillar of the mystery community, we stand on less solid ground with his passing.

Robert Eversz, author of the Nina Zero mysteries:

Writers are canonized in one of two ways: their works stay in print decades after initial publication, or their writing works a profound and visible influence on the generations of writers that follow. Robert B. Parker’s books will be in print long after everyone reading this has left the scene. The literary DNA of Parker’s Spenser has been passed to more writers than can be listed on a page; every wisecracking private eye published since the 1970s carries more than a little Spenser in his or her genetic code.

Christopher G. Moore, the author of Paying Back Jack:

Parker breathed life into the hard-boiled crime novel, gave it life when many people had buried it. Anyone writing in the genre, along with his many readers, will miss his humor, pathos, and sharp-as-a-razor narrative drive. Vincent Calvino owes him a Mehkong and coke on the other side.

Sean Doolittle, the author of Safer:

I’m not sure I could come up with anything more of value to say about the passing of Robert B. Parker, so I’ll pay tribute to him the best way I can think of: by offering from memory the very first line of his that I ever read. It’s the opening line of The Godwulf Manuscript: “The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.” I can’t do that very often.

Meg Gardiner, author of The Liar’s Lullaby:

There’s nothing better than spending time with Spenser, unless it’s spending time with Jesse Stone. Rest in peace, Mr. Parker.

William Kent Krueger, the author of Heaven’s Keep and the fall 2010 Cork O’Connor novel, Vermilion Drift:

Some, in passing, leave no trace. The death of Robert Parker leaves a great void. Our comfort is that his beloved creations--Spenser, Hawk, Susan, Jesse, et al.--will always be with us, his work a fine and enviable legacy.

Jack Curtin, Philadelphia-area freelance writer, sometime book critic, and author of the blog I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing:

I own every Spenser novel ever published (38 of them to date, with another two at least still in the pipeline), plus all the Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall books which he introduced in more recent times. I actually became somewhat disenchanted with the Spenser stories for a bit in the middle of the long run, but I still bought and read every one and slipped easily back into the fold as Parker, Spenser, and I all grew older. Each new book was ordered immediately, devoured upon receipt--if they had a serious flaw it was that they were so easy to read, so fast to finish. Like any great writer, Bob Parker always left you satisfied and at the same time craving more.

John McFetridge, the author of Let It Ride:

When I think of Boston I always think of Robert B. Parker and [hockey player] Bobby Orr--two guys who were the very best at what they did and always made it look so easy. In The Judas Goat, Spenser and Hawk came to Montreal, and when I read that I retraced their steps. It was amazing to think of them in my town.

Hallie Ephron, the author of Never Tell a Lie:

He wrote dialogue other writers would die for.

He was very private but showed up at Kate’s Mystery Books’ Christmas party each year, and if you got to it early enough, there he’d be sitting in the easy chair, surrounded by fans, signing stacks and stacks and stacks of books that immediately got snapped up.

J.D. Rhoades, blogger the author of Breaking Cover:

If it weren’t for Robert B, Parker, I wouldn’t be a writer--but his work was so amazing that I think we can forgive him for that. He made me a mystery fan, then he made me want to write, then he showed me how to do it better.

Dick Lochte, the author of Croaked! and co-author, with Al Roker (yes, that Al Roker) of The Morning Show Murders:

Parker turned the big three of private detective novelists (Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald) into a quartet, arriving just in time to breathe new life into the then-fading genre. His early books were superb and his later ones, at the very least, were enjoyable comfort novels where we could observe Spenser, Hawk, and Susan--and Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall--banter brilliantly and blithely control their single universe. Off the page, he was kind and generous in helping many writers jumpstart their careers. Me included.

Russell Atwood, the author of Losers Live Longer:

For me, Robert B. Parker is one of the Grand Masters, up there with Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie, a true original in the field. His novel Early Autumn completely changed my idea of what the “mystery” novel could accomplish, because the challenge Spenser faces is not a puzzle of clues and evidence and whodunit, but a real-life problem of a young boy trying to become a man. After this novel, people stopped referring to Parker as the new Hammett or the new Chandler. Instead, when new authors appeared on the scene, they were fortunate if reviewers labeled them the new Parker. There are very few authors who can be said to have forever changed the genre, but Robert B. Parker is one of them, and always will be. God bless him, and long live Spenser!

Ed Gorman, the author of Ticket to Ride and the editor (with Martin H. Greenberg) of Between the Dark and the Daylight: And 27 More of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year:

I doubt I have anything original to say about Parker. He re-created the private-eye genre for my generation. He found a voice for his time, one that has been imitated so much you have to go back to his first novels to appreciate how fresh it was then. Though my favorite P.I. novelist remains Ross Macdonald, I think Parker deserves space on the same shelf as Hammett and Chandler, writers who extended and redefined the form.

Matt Hilton, the author of Dead Men’s Dust:

When asked about my writing influences, it shames me to admit that I’ve never mentioned the name of the great Robert B. Parker before. However, when looking at my list, each and every one of those [writers] I have named were influenced by him--so in effect so am I, making me one of a second generation of authors who owe Mr. Parker a huge debt of thanks.

Alex Bledsoe, the author of Burn Me Deadly:

Robert B. Parker showed me it was OK to write about tough guys with real emotions. His novels consistently bled feelings as much as punches and bullets. He put decency up against its roughest opponents, and made you believe decency could win.

I have to say, I’m still in the process of accepting Parker’s absence. My son (whose middle name is Spenser) just turned 2 last Saturday, and I’d just finished re-reading Mortal Stakes. I never met [Parker], but always hoped to.

Kevin Burton Smith, creator and editor of The Thrilling Detective
Web Site

I’ve probably always liked detective fiction--it just took Robert Parker to make me realize it.

I remember watching Mannix and later The Rockford Files and Harry O with my mom, and tearing through The Hardy Boys as fast as I could, and reading The Maltese Falcon in high school, and dipping my toes in the waters of Chandler and John D. MacDonald in my early years of art college. But I read other things as well: adventure and science fiction and MAD magazine and westerns and Tarzan and spy novels and comic books and even--GASP!--literary novels. And then, stuck for something to read one day on my way home, I picked up a copy of Early Autumn from a paperback spinner rack at the McGill Metro Station in Montreal. I liked the colors on the cover, and the blurbs made the novel sound like something I might enjoy.

But Early Autumn was something else again. A P.I. novel, sure. But it aimed for so much more. Some people evidently thought it pretentious or even silly, or at the least that Parker was over-reaching, but the character of Paul Giacomin, the throwaway child Spenser eventually decides to save, was a slap in the face to me. The book was angry and passionate and railed against just the sort of society I feared we were becoming and the sort of kid I feared I’d been--and the sort of adult I was in danger of becoming. And Spenser, hard and loyal and sensitive and romantic and brave and an inveterate wise-ass, a man both interesting and interested, was the sort of man I felt I could try to be.

I read all the Spensers I could find, and went back and re-read Chandler and Hammett, and discovered Ross Macdonald and tore through him, too. And I re-read Chandler’s “The Simple Art of Murder.” And this time I got it. The private-eye novel could be about almost anything. And a scared, mixed-up young man who’d been drifting could maybe raise himself up and find a better way.

Silly? Of course. Maybe even pretentious. But from that point on, I walked a little straighter, and stood a little taller. As Bruce Springsteen once wrote, I tried to learn to “walk like the heroes we thought we had to be.”

I haven’t always succeeded--none of us have--but that didn’t matter. The point was to try.

And that’s what the Spenser novels were about. Trying.

Parker wrote a lot of books over the years. His heroes never stopped trying. Some of his books were better than others, but few were downright turkeys. And the very best of them were among the best and most-loved private-eye novels of the last 40 years. He never ceased to write about the things I cared about: loyalty, friendship, honor, love, autonomy, courage, justice and mercy, and he never stooped to the cheap cynicism and dime-store nihilism that so many people mistakenly think denotes “serious writing.”

And that’s another of the things I’ll always admire about Parker. He had a contempt for sham, particularly that practiced by fellow authors who took themselves far too seriously.

While other writers would wring their hands and loudly bleat on and on about the noble romance of writing, and liken the act of producing a novel to passing a kidney stone (and too often receive praise for it), Parker simply sat down and wrote.

“I never heard a plumber complain about plumber’s block” was one of his better quips about writing, and pretty much sums up the man. He took his writing seriously, sure, but he never took himself too seriously.

He liked beer and he liked baseball, but when it was time to work, Parker sat down and got the job done. And in the act of doing that, he died.

In the end, Parker was, like Spenser himself, a professional.

I’ll miss him.