Mystery author Robert Parker dies at 77; books inspired TV series 'Spenser: For Hire'

I once asked mystery author Robert B. Parker what he thought his best-known series character, Spenser, looked like.

Mr. Parker gave me a wry smile and said, "Like me, only taller."

In the hearts of his millions of fans, Mr. Parker stood pretty tall himself. He died Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. I was shocked by the news, but not a bit surprised by reports that he died at his desk.

Mr. Parker, 77, was a prolific writer. He published more than 50 novels, 37 of them about Spenser, an ex-boxer turned private eye who was equally fast with a wisecrack and a handgun. He was a modern version of the classic detective: a tough but honest knight errant of the big, bad city.

Mr. Parker developed a formula, as any series writer does, but he executed it with the highest level of skill. His novels are an irresistible mix of intelligent wit, well-crafted suspense and serious consideration of the moral implications of violence and corruption.

After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, Mr. Parker earned a Ph.D. in literature from Boston University with a dissertation on classic mystery writers Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald. He followed in their footsteps, publishing the first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, in 1973, naming Spenser after the British poet Edmund Spenser and giving him some of his own tastes for literature, gourmet cooking, social causes and snappy repartee.

Spenser, like his creator, is devoted to one woman, psychologist Susan Silverman, who matches him for sexy banter. Mr. Parker married his wife, Joan, in 1956 and dedicated all of his novels to her. She survives him, as do their sons David, a choreographer, and Daniel, an actor.

The perennially bestselling Spenser novels were the inspiration for the TV series Spenser: For Hire (1985-88), starring Robert Urich as the hero.

Mr. Parker's three other novel series include one about police Chief Jesse Stone, the basis for a series of TV movies starring Tom Selleck. Another is about a female detective, Sunny Randall. The third is a series of Westerns; Ed Harris directed and starred in a 2008 movie based on the first in the series, Appaloosa.

Mr. Parker received two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and was named a Grand Master by that organization in 2002.

The latest Spenser novel, The Professional, was published in October. At least two more books are on the way: a Jesse Stone book, Split Image, in February, and a Western, Blue-Eyed Devil, in May. There's also rumor that one more Spenser might be published. I hope so.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435.

Mystery author Robert Parker dies at 77; books inspired TV series 'Spenser: For Hire' 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 8:49pm]

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