One of my favorite authors, Robert B. Parker was born on this day in 1932. In April 2007, critic David J. Montgomery of Mystery Ink Online awarded Parker the Gumshoe for Lifetime Achievement and asked me to write a tribute. The Mystery Ink site has gone dark, but I still have the tribute in my files and want to share it in memory of Parker, who died January 18, 2010:
Not until the summer of my first year in college did I realize how much reading it would take to be a writer. I picked up The Godwulf Manuscript because I recalled TV's Spenser: For Hire was "based on characters created by Robert B. Parker." I was most interested in reading about Hawk, the amoral enforcer vividly portrayed by Avery Brooks, but by the end of the novel I didn't mind that he hadn't appeared at all. By the end of that summer, I had read the first eighteen Spenser novels at the pace of three-a-week.
Parker showed me that a single character could be a thinker, a fighter, a lover, a gourmet cook, and seem no less real. He showed me that the same few words could convey humor, suspense, and literary significance.
Born September 17, 1932 and raised in Massachusetts, Robert Brown Parker attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine where he began dating his future wife Joan Hall. Parker served with the U.S. Army in Korea from 1954-56 and worked in tech writing and advertising before completing his Ph.D. in 1970. His dissertation traced the classic hero from the Western frontier to the urban landscapes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald.
Spenser debuted in 1973 as a tribute to Chandler's Philip Marlowe, but unlike the solitary brooding Marlowe, Spenser is basically content, with a circle of friends that widens as the series goes on. While these friends (most notably Dr. Susan Silverman and Hawk) keep Spenser grounded, they also increase the relevance of Parker's work. He can tell a tight hardboiled tale and do a little social commentary on the side.
In the late 1980s, at the height of Spenser's popularity, Parker was hired by the Chandler estate to complete the last Marlowe novel, Poodle Springs, and to write a sequel to The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream. Within the past decade, Parker has introduced series protagonists Paradise Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone (Night Passage) and female P.I. Sunny Randall (Family Honor). He has also written a handful of Westerns, screenplays, and out this month, the teen novel EDENVILLE OWLS.
Parker makes no secret that his surge in productivity was motivated by money. Some criticize his businesslike attitude, but the same attitude established him as a reliable favorite, and there's no denying his particular gifts—thoughtful characters, efficient prose, and appealing voice—remain intact.