Robert Brown Parker (September 17, 1932 – January 18, 2010) was an American writer, primarily of fiction within the mystery/detective genre. His most famous works were the 40 novels written about the fictional private detective Spenser. ABC television network developed the television series Spenser: For Hire based on the character in the mid-1980s; a series of TV movies was also produced based on the character. His works incorporate encyclopedic knowledge of the Boston metropolitan area.[2] The Spenser novels have been cited as reviving and changing the detective genre by critics and bestselling authors [3] including Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, and Dennis Lehane.[4]

Robert B. Parker
Parker in 2006
Parker in 2006
BornRobert Brown Parker
(1932-09-17)September 17, 1932
Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedJanuary 18, 2010(2010-01-18) (aged 77)[1]
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
GenreDetective fiction, Western fiction
SpouseJoan Hall Parker (m. 1956)

Parker also wrote nine novels featuring the fictional character Jesse Stone, a Los Angeles police officer who moves to a small New England town; six novels with the fictional character Sunny Randall, a female private investigator; and four Westerns starring the duo Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. The first was Appaloosa, made into a film starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen.

Early life edit

Parker was born in Springfield, Massachusetts.[5] In 1956, Parker married Joan H. Parker, whom he claimed to have met as a toddler at a birthday party.[6] They spent their childhoods in the same neighborhood.[7]

After earning a BA degree from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, Parker served as a soldier in the US Army Infantry in Korea. In 1957, he earned his master's degree in English literature from Boston University and then worked in advertising and technical writing until 1962.[5] Parker received a PhD in English literature from Boston University in 1971.[8] His dissertation, titled "The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage, and Urban Reality," discussed the exploits of fictional private-eye heroes created by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald.[5]

Career edit

Parker wrote his first novel[8] in 1971 while teaching at Northeastern University. He became a full professor in 1976, and turned to full-time writing in 1979, with five Spenser novels to his credit.[5]

Parker's popular Spenser novels are known for his characters of varied races and religions. According to critic Christina Nunez, Parker's "inclusion of [characters of] other races and sexual persuasions" lends his writings a "more modern feel".[9] For example, the Spenser series characters include Hawk and Chollo, African-American and Mexican-American, respectively, as well as Spenser's Jewish girlfriend, Susan, various Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese, a gay cop, Lee Farrell, and even a gay mob boss, Gino Fish.[10] The homosexuality of both his sons gave his writing "[a] sensibility," Ms. Nunez feels, "[which] strengthens Parker's sensibility [toward gays]." In 1985, Spenser was made into a successful television series, Spenser for Hire which starred Robert Urich, Avery Brooks and Barbara Stock.

In 1994, Parker collaborated with Japanese photographer Kasho Kumagai on a coffee table book called Spenser's Boston, exploring the city through Spenser's "eyes" via high quality, 4-color photos. In addition to Parker's introduction, excerpts from several of the Spenser novels were included.[11]

Parker created female detective Sunny Randall at the request of actress Helen Hunt, who wanted him to write a part for her to play. He wrote the first book, and the film version was planned for 2000[5] but never materialized.[8] However, his publisher liked the character and asked him to continue with the series.[8]

Another figure created by Parker was Jesse Stone, a troubled former LAPD detective, who starts a new career as a police chief in a small New England town. Between 1997 and 2010, he wrote nine novels featuring Jesse Stone, all of which have been adapted as a series of TV movies by CBS starring Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone.

Aside from crime writing, Parker also produced several Western novels, including Appaloosa,[12] and children's books. Like Parker's Spenser series, his Westerns have received critical attention. Chris Dacus, who has written on other authors like Cormac McCarthy, has written of the intellectual depth and importance of Parker's Westerns in The Stoic Western Hero: Robert B. Parker's Westerns.[13]

Parker and his wife created an independent film company called Pearl Productions, based in Boston. It was named after their German short-haired pointer, Pearl.[8]

Personal life edit

Parker and his wife, Joan, had two sons, David and Daniel. Originally, the character of Spenser was to have been called "David," but Parker didn't want to appear to favor one of his sons over the other. Parker therefore omitted Spenser's first name entirely, and it was never revealed.

Parker and his wife separated at one point but then came to an unusual arrangement. They lived in a three-story Victorian house just outside of Harvard Square; she lived on one floor and he on another, and they shared the middle floor. This living arrangement is mirrored in Spenser's private life: his girlfriend, Susan, had an aversion to marriage and living together full-time. Living separately suited them both, although they were fully committed to each other. Explaining the arrangement in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, Parker said, "I want to make love to my wife for the rest of my life, but I never want to sleep with her again."

He had a great fondness for dogs, including German Shorthair Pointers. Dogs were included in his Spenser stories, aging along with the character and appearing in the ongoing series of novels. The dogs were always named Pearl.[14]

Parker's favorite books were The Bear, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Maltese Falcon, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Dubliners, The Big Sleep, U.S.A. trilogy, and The Ambassadors. [15]

Awards edit

Parker received three nominations and two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. He received the first award, the "Best Novel Award" in 1977, for the fourth novel in the Spenser series, Promised Land.[16] In 1983, he received the Maltese Falcon Award, Japan, for Early Autumn. In 1990 he shared, with wife Joan, a nomination for "Best Television Episode" for the TV series B.L. Stryker; however, the award went to David J. Burke and Alfonse Ruggiero Jr. for Wiseguy.

In 2002, he received the Grand Master Award Edgar for his collective oeuvre.[17]

Parker received the 2002 Joseph E. Connor Memorial Award from the Phi Alpha Tau Fraternity at Emerson College. He was inducted into the fraternity as an honorary brother in Spring 2003.[18]

In 2008, he was awarded the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award.

Death edit

Parker was 77 when he died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 18, 2010; discovered at his desk by his wife Joan, he had been working on a novel.[1][19][20]

Joan Parker, the inspiration for the Susan Silverman character in the Spenser series, died June 12, 2013.

Later written by Ace Atkins, the Spenser series continued following Parker's death. The Boston Globe wrote that while some people might have "viewed the move as unseemly, those people didn't know Robert B. Parker, a man who, when asked how his books would be viewed in 50 years, replied: 'Don't know, don't care.' He was proud of his work, but he mainly saw writing as a means of providing a comfortable life for his family."[14]

Bibliography edit

Novels edit

Title Year ISBN Series Notes
The Godwulf Manuscript 1973 0-395-18011-2 Spenser 01
God Save the Child 1974 0-395-19955-7 Spenser 02
Mortal Stakes 1975 0-395-21969-8 Spenser 03
Promised Land 1976 0-395-24771-3 Spenser 04 Edgar Award, Best Novel
The Judas Goat 1978 0-395-26682-3 Spenser 05
Wilderness 1979 0-385-29108-6
Looking for Rachel Wallace 1980 0-385-28558-2 Spenser 06
Early Autumn 1980 0-385-28242-7 Spenser 07 1983 Maltese Falcon Award
A Savage Place 1981 0-385-28951-0 Spenser 08
Ceremony 1982 0-385-28127-7 Spenser 09
The Widening Gyre 1983 0-385-29220-1 Spenser 10
Love and Glory 1983 0-385-29261-9 Set at Taft University
Valediction 1984 0-385-29330-5 Spenser 11
A Catskill Eagle 1985 0-385-29385-2 Spenser 12
Taming a Sea-Horse 1986 0-385-29461-1 Spenser 13
Pale Kings and Princes 1987 0-385-29538-3 Spenser 14
Crimson Joy 1988 0-385-29668-1 Spenser 15
Playmates 1989 0-399-13463-8 Spenser 16 Set at Taft University
Poodle Springs 1989 0-399-13482-4 Philip Marlowe 1 Completing the 1958 Raymond Chandler novel - The first four chapters are written by Raymond Chandler
Stardust 1990 0-399-13537-5 Spenser 17
Pastime 1991 0-399-13630-4 Spenser 18
Perchance to Dream 1991 0-399-13580-4 Philip Marlowe 2 Sequel to The Big Sleep
Double Deuce 1992 0-399-13754-8 Spenser 19
Paper Doll 1993 0-399-13818-8 Spenser 20
Walking Shadow 1994 0-399-13961-3 Spenser 21
All Our Yesterdays 1994 0-385-30437-4
Thin Air 1995 0-399-14063-8 Spenser 22
Chance 1996 0-399-14688-1 Spenser 23
Small Vices 1997 0-399-14547-8 Spenser 24
Night Passage 1997 0-399-14304-1 Jesse Stone 1
Trouble in Paradise 1998 0-399-14433-1 Jesse Stone 2
Sudden Mischief 1998 0-399-14696-2 Spenser 25
Hush Money 1999 0-399-14458-7 Spenser 26
Family Honor 1999 0-399-14566-4 Sunny Randall 1
Perish Twice 2000 0-399-14668-7 Sunny Randall 2
Hugger Mugger 2000 0-399-14587-7 Spenser 27
Gunman's Rhapsody 2001 0-399-14762-4 Wyatt Earp in 1879
Death in Paradise 2001 0-399-14779-9 Jesse Stone 3
Potshot 2001 0-399-14710-1 Spenser 28
Widow's Walk 2002 0-399-14845-0 Spenser 29
Shrink Rap 2002 0-399-14930-9 Sunny Randall 3
Back Story 2003 0-399-14977-5 Spenser 30 Includes Jesse Stone
Stone Cold 2003 0-399-15087-0 Jesse Stone 4
Bad Business 2004 0-399-15145-1 Spenser 31
Melancholy Baby 2004 0-399-15218-0 Sunny Randall 4
Double Play 2004 0-399-15188-5
Cold Service 2005 0-399-15240-7 Spenser 32
Appaloosa 2005 0-399-15277-6 Cole & Hitch 1
School Days 2005 0-399-15323-3 Spenser 33
Hundred-Dollar Baby 2006 0-399-15376-4 Spenser 34 Also published as Dream Girl
Sea Change 2006 0-399-15267-9 Jesse Stone 5
Blue Screen 2006 0-399-15351-9 Sunny Randall 5 Includes Jesse Stone
High Profile 2007 0-399-15404-3 Jesse Stone 6 Includes Sunny Randall
Spare Change 2007 0-399-15425-6 Sunny Randall 6
Now and Then 2007 0-399-15441-8 Spenser 35
Edenville Owls 2007 0-399-24656-8
Stranger In Paradise 2008 0-399-15460-4 Jesse Stone 7
The Boxer and the Spy 2008 0-399-24775-0
Rough Weather 2008 0-399-15519-8 Spenser 36
Resolution 2008 0-399-15504-X Cole & Hitch 2
Brimstone 2009 0-399-15571-6 Cole & Hitch 3
Chasing the Bear 2009 0-399-24776-9 Spenser 37 (prequel) "Young Spenser"
Night and Day 2009 0-399-15541-4 Jesse Stone 8 Includes Sunny Randall
The Professional 2009 0-399-15594-5 Spenser 38
Split Image 2010 0-399-15623-2 Jesse Stone 9 Published posthumously, includes Sunny Randall
Blue-Eyed Devil 2010 0-399-15648-8 Cole & Hitch 4 Published posthumously
Painted Ladies 2010 0-399-15685-2 Spenser 39 Published posthumously
Sixkill 2011 0-399-15726-3 Spenser 40 Published posthumously
Silent Night 2013 0-425-27161-7 Spenser 41 Unfinished, completed by literary agent Helen Brann

Series continuations edit

After Parker died, his family, together with Parker's publishers, chose to continue the Jesse Stone, Spenser and Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch series. [21]

Ace Atkins was selected to continue the Spenser novels. The book Parker was working on at the time of his death was completed by his literary agent Helen Bran. [22]

Eleven Jesse Stone novels have been published since Parker's death. The first three were by Parker's longtime friend and collaborator, Michael Brandman, and the next six by Reed Farrel Coleman. [23][24] Mike Lupica wrote the 10th in 2020 and eleventh in 2021.

Parker's Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch was continued by actor and screenwriter Robert Knott.[25]

The Sunny Randall series continued with Blood Feud (November 27, 2018) and Grudge Match (May 4, 2020). The books were written by Parker's friend, sports journalist Mike Lupica.[26]

Non-fiction edit

Short fiction edit

"Surrogate"' (1991)" A short story published in the crime anthology New Crimes 3 ISBN 0-88184-737-2

References edit

  1. ^ a b "'Spenser' novelist Robert Parker dies in Cambridge". Boston Herald. Associated Press. 2010-01-19. Retrieved 2010-01-19.
  2. ^ Geherin, David (c. 1980). Sons of Sam Spade: the private-eye novel in the 70s: Robert B. Parker, Roger L. Simon, Andrew Bergman. Ungar. ISBN 0-8044-2231-1.
  3. ^ "Robert B. Parker left a mark on the detective novel" by Sarah Weinman, Los Angeles Times [1]
  4. ^ "His Spenser Novels Saved Detective Fiction" by Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal [2]
  5. ^ a b c d e Robert B. Parker biography Archived 2010-02-11 at the Wayback Machine from
  6. ^ Bruce Weber (January 20, 2010). "Robert B. Parker, the Prolific Writer Who Created Spenser, Is Dead at 77". The New York Times. Retrieved January 20, 2010.
  7. ^ Jules Older (October 2003). "Robert B. Parker 2003 Interview". Yankee Magazine. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  8. ^ a b c d e Author Profile: Robert B. Parker from
  9. ^ Christina Nunez. "Robert B. Parker Biography". Barnes and Noble. Retrieved 2010-02-23.
  10. ^ See nearly the entire Spenser series for Hawk, whose prominence in the plots increases with each book; for Chollo, Stardust, Pot Shot, and Now and Then; Cold Service features Ukrainian and Russian mobsters; and Walking Shadow, which explores Chinese tongs and includes a Chinese-American translator named Mei Ling who has a relationship with Hawk; see Chance for Gino Fish, who also crosses over into the first Jesse Stone novel.
  11. ^ The Tennessean, 8 March 2009, Arts & Entertainment, p. 11
  12. ^ This was adapted to film in 2008 by Ed Harris, starring Harris (who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay), Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Irons
  13. ^ Dacus, Chris. The Stoic Western Hero: Robert B. Parker's Westerns. CDI: 2011.
  14. ^ a b Bissonette, Zac (May 12, 2013). "Robert B. Parker is dead. Long live Robert B. Parker!". Boston Globe. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  15. ^ Zane, J. Peder (2010). The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. W.W. Norton & Company. p. 105. ISBN 9780393339864.
  16. ^ "Edgars" database search for "Grand Master" award Archived 2018-09-27 at the Wayback Machine at the Mystery Writers of America's website . Retrieved February 2009.
  17. ^ database [3] Archived 2018-09-27 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved February 2009.
  18. ^ Phi Alpha Tau Fraternity [4] Archived 2016-11-10 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved November 2016.
  19. ^ Bryan Marquard (January 19, 2010). "Mystery novelist Robert Parker dies at 77". The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 20, 2010.
  20. ^ Patricia Sullivan (January 20, 2010). "Crime novelist, Spenser creator Robert B. Parker dies at 77". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 20, 2010.
  21. ^ English, Bella. "Atkins, for hire, helps keep detective 'Spenser' on the case". Retrieved 2023-03-17.
  22. ^ "Ace Atkins talks true crime, Spenser's hidden Auburn connection". al. 2021-01-20. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  23. ^ Estate of Robert B. Parker (27 April 2011). "The Putnam Press Release". Facebook.
  24. ^ Shanahan, Mark; Meredith Goldstein (28 April 2011). "Parker's series live on". The Boston Globe.
  25. ^ Walsh, Ray. "Lawmen Cole, Hitch still on the trail in 'Buckskin'". Lansing State Journal. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  26. ^ Ryan Steck (26 March 2018). "Mike Lupica Set To Continue Robert B. Parker's Sunny Randall Series; 'Blood Feud' Due Out In November".

External links edit