Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A sad day: RIP Robert B. Parker

I got into work a little while ago, looking forward to another great day, ticking a few jobs off the list and moving things forward. Unfortunately on opening my first email, my good mood disappeared, as I learned mystery writing great Robert B. Parker passed away overnight (NZT).

The man who was born, lived, and passed away in his beloved home state of Massachussetts, penned more than 60 novels, including 38 featuring his most famous creation, Boston private eye Spenser (no first name ever revealed) - a hardboiled detective of the classic Chandler/Hammett style.

Parker passed away at the age of 77 in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home. The cause of death has not yet been released, although early reports suggest there was no foul play, and his UK publishers have reportedly said that he died at his writing desk.

He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1932, but perhaps surprisingly given his prolific output, he didn’t actually become a published author until his early 40s. He earned a BA from Colby College in Maine before serving with the US Army in Korea. In 1957 he earned a Master’s in English Literature from Boston University, and then worked in advertising until 1962. He completed a PhD in English Literature from Boston University in 1971, with a dissertation focused on fictional hardboiled private eyes created by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald (his PhD paper was entitled “The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality”.

Parker began writing his own detective novel, featuring his own Boston-based hardboiled private eye (Spenser), while at Northeastern University (where Parker became a full professor in 1976, before retiring to take up fulltime writing in 1979, when he had the first five Spenser novels, and his first Edgar Award for Best Novel, under his belt). The Spenser series was made into a popular TV series in the 1980s; Spenser for Hire - and with last year’s latest release, THE PROFESSIONAL, Parker had racked up an impressive 38 novels featuring the now-legendary Boston detective.

Parker also created two other series; the Jesse stone novels (which were made into a series of popular and award-winning TV movies starring Tom Selleck – with two more scheduled to be released in 2010) featuring an alcoholic ex-ballplayer turned small-town sheriff; and the Sunny Randall novels (which were reputedly created as the basis for a TV or film series starring actress Helen Hunt, who asked Parker to create a character for her to play – the adaptations fell through but the books became popular) featuring fashion-conscious, unlucky-in-love, gun-toting female private eye. Parker also wrote some Westerns, children's books, and non-fiction.

Los Angeles Times online crime fiction columnist Sarah Weinman has a good summary of many great links to obituaries, tributes, and other RBP-related websites and articles on her blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind – see here.

Like many, I am still coming to terms with the news. Robert B. Parker was someone I’d actually mentioned to my NZ-based publicist contacts late last year as an author I’d love to interview in 2010. I was looking forward to setting that phone interview up.

I’ve been meaning to read more of his work for quite a while (I got SCHOOL DAYS out from the library twice last year, and it lay unread as newer titles demanded immediate reading for review) – he is one of those older authors like Tony Hillerman, Joseph Wambaugh and Ed McBain that I really felt I needed to read more of, in terms of increasing my own knowledge of crime fiction history etc. I did get Stone Cold (starring Tom Selleck) out from the DVD store last year, and enjoyed that – I was looking forward to more of the DVDs being available in New Zealand.

Anyway, I’d better get on with the day. A sad way to start however. Please share your thoughts on Parker and his writing below.

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