Tuesday, January 19, 2010

They Won’t Have Parker to Kick
Around Anymore

Damn. Robert B. Parker died yesterday at age 77.

I’m really bummed.

I know a lot of you didn’t like him, or dismissed him. Including, distressingly, a small but vocal slew of his contemporaries, who--just coincidentally, of course--never achieved his commercial success. The sniping began about the time he won an Edgar Award in 1977 for Promised Land, and it has continued ever since. It’ll be interesting to see the response (and backtracking from the sour-grapes brigade) over the next few days.

But his influence on the private-eye genre (and the mystery genre as a whole) over the last four decades is undeniable.

And his recent output was truly impressive (especially coming at a time when most writers have retired or have rested on their laurels for years): a successful western series, a couple of acclaimed young adult novels, and even last year’s The Professional showed that his greatest creation, Spenser, still had plenty of juice. It’s a swell read: a sly retelling of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and a surprisingly touching, nuanced, and perceptive exploration of friendship and loyalty and love--typical Parker themes, perhaps, but as always he managed to inject poignancy and resonance into the proceedings. Parker’s work also provided the inspiration for some great viewing over the last few years: Appaloosa (2008), with Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris, and one of the more enjoyable and welcome TV comebacks--Tom Selleck in the Jesse Stone TV films, based on Parker’s series about a small-town police chief in Massachusetts.

I never met the man. But I enjoyed his books immensely. And as a bookseller, I enjoyed recommending his various works to customers. They were seldom dissatisfied, and usually returned asking things like “Did this guy write anything else?”

Millions of other people apparently had the same reaction. And a whole generation of younger mystery crime-fiction writers cite him as a major influence.

As Harlan Coben, no slouch himself, once put it, “When it comes to detective novels, 90 percent of us admit he’s an influence, and the rest of us lie about it.”

I could go on--and probably will over the next few days--but trust me, one of the truly great ones has left us.


Sam said...

He had a gift for writing page-turners, yet his work never felt dumbed down and patronizing. Walking Shadow stands out in my mind. Definitely one of the greats.

Gordon Harries said...

I loved the first 13 or so Parkers (the three novels in which Parker seperates from and rejoins Susan particually.)

I keep circuling around and trying to write something that express the effect he had on P.I fiction, which I think was profound, but find myself unable to do so.

Needles to say, I'm pretty bummed myself.

Brian Drake said...

"Pale Kings and Princes" was the first Spenser/Parker book I read, and I still vividly remember scenes as if I had read the book yesterday. He could make the smallest character come alive, and really make you feel for some of the victims.