Robert Parker, one of my favorite writers, died on Monday. He wrote 37 Spenser mysteries, short books that take practically no time to read. He also kept three other series going–Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and a western series (from which the movie “Appaloosa” came).
I’ve got three Parker books sitting on my shelf, unread–the latest Spenser, Stone, and Randall books. I’ve read all of the others. Word is that several more books are finished.
Parker died writing his latest Spenser book. He was found at his typewriter, dead of a heart attack, by his wife Joan. They’d been married 53 years. All of his books were dedicated to Joan. Look it up.
Everyone calls him the successor to Raymond Chandler, and maybe he is. But Spenser bears little resemblance to Philip Marlowe, and Chandler produced only a handful of books. Ross MacDonald might be a better comparison, though again, the similarities are few. Parker reinvented the private investigator. Spenser himself may not be so unique, but having a sidekick like Hawk is certainly new.
A Chandler book can be savored, because of the clever writing, the funny turns-of-phrases which Chandler pull off. Parker is just as witty, but in a more character-driven way. For example: the sparse interplay between Spenser and Hawk. It’s delightful stuff.
Spenser, Hawk, Susan, Quirk, Rachel Wallace, and a variety of guys he could call on when he needed some muscle–these are fascinating, well-defined characters whom I’ve been reading about for 25 years (I read my first Spenser book somewhere around 1984). Spenser never aged during that time. Being a Korean War vet (like Parker), he should have been quite old by now.
Some things I picked up in reading tributes to Parker:
- He wrote a total of 60 novels, starting with “The Godwulf Manuscript” in 1973 (the first Spenser book).
- We never learn Spenser’s first name.
- He wrote five double-spaced pages a day, 1,250 words, 6 days of the week (took Sunday off). At that rate, he cranked out a book every three months.
- He never knew what would happen next in a book, and finished books without revising them. He didn’t rewrite, didn’t do a second draft, and didn’t reread it when done. He’d turn the manuscript over to Joan, then begin the next book.
- In recent years, he was getting a $1 million advance per book (and doing three books a year).
- Of the tributes I read, the best was in the Telegraph, from England.