It’s been a very long while since I thought about Robert B. Parker’s 1979 standalone tale, Wilderness, but Jake Hinkson reminded me of it yesterday with this Criminal Element post. In that novel, he recalls, Parker “tells the story of a middle-aged author named Aaron Newman who writes macho books but faces a real-life crisis when he witnesses a murder. He fingers the killer–a gangster named Adolph Karl–to the cops, but when his wife, a fiercely independent professor named Janet, is terrorized by the bad guys, Newman and Janet decide to strike back.” Hinkson calls Wilderness “a flawed book to be sure, but for Parker fans it will help to illuminate some of the darker themes that run beneath the surface of so much of the author’s work.”
I am a big fan of Reed Farrel Coleman’s work. I am also a big fan of Robert B. Parker’s work. So I figured Parker’s characters in Coleman’s hands should be a match made in heaven. Turns out I was right. So, after Michael Brandman now Mr. Colleman chronicles the story of Jesse Stone.
Reed seems to “get” Jesse Stone even better than Parker himself if that’s even possible. By that I mean the character really, really came to life for me. The time Reed spend researching about the character to write an essay in the non-fiction “In Pursuit Of Spenser” pays off here.
When a young woman is murdered in Paradise police chief Jesse Stone finds a connection to his old baseball team. Falling in love with a pretty undercover Special Agent, saving damsels in distress from bikers, battling against the bottle all keep him pretty busy. In the end though, Jesse solves the case… Kind of.
Aside from great work on Parker’s characters Coleman introduces a few great ones of his own creation, like the thug-in-love Breen. These characters are just as fascinating as Parker’s.
Although the first four (of seven) television movies inspired by Robert B. Parker’s novels about Boston private eye Spenser have been available in DVD format for some time now, the 1985-1988 ABC-TV series, Spenser: For Hire, starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, has been gathering dust, waiting for its own release. But it appears that wait is finally coming to an end.
TV Shows on DVD reports that Warner Archive Collection recently offered a novel spin on the widely publicized ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in order to announce the coming debut of Spenser: For Hire–The Complete First Season (22 episodes). “The title isn’t up for pre-order yet, so we don’t have a date or a cost for you right now,” the site explains. However, the cover art can be seen in a video here.
UPDATE: There’s now a link to Spenser: For Hire–The Complete First Season on the Warner Archive site. The set is priced at $39.95.
I have very few regrets in life, but a serious one is that I never had the chance to shake hands with Robert B. Parker and thank him for his more than three decades of work as a fictionist. His writing casts such a long shadow over the entire mystery-fiction genre, thanks to his crafting of the Spenser and Hawk
detective series, that whenever the subject of private-eye tales comes up, so
does Parker’s name.
I was humbled recently, during Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, New York, to moderate a panel discussion about tales involving private detectives. And grateful to Judy Bobalik for selecting such erudite panelists–writers Baron Birtcher, Jack Bludis, Brendan DuBois, Charles Salzberg, and John Shepphird–to help keep the discussion lively and informative. My appreciation extended as well to author Reed Farrel Coleman, who had met Parker and discussed that encounter with me before the session began. He also talked
to me about his essay in the 2012 anthology In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero (Smart Pop), edited by Otto Penzler–a book that would be of interest to any Spenser fan.
During that panel event, two names came up most often: Robert J.
Randisi, who established the Private
Eye Writers of America (PWA) organization and is a prolific author of both P.I.
novels and books in the Western genre; and Parker, who followed in the
footsteps of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, updating the private-eye story for the late 20th-century and paving the way for other, younger writers to experiment with that subgenre, among them Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Michael Koryta.
The discussion brought back memories of January 19, 2010, when I received the news that Bob Parker had passed away in the midst of writing. It also took me back to Bouchercon 2010, held in San Francisco, during which Rap Sheet editor J. Kingston Pierce and I made sure to attend a panel designed as a tribute to Robert B. Parker. Moderated by Scottish writer Russel D. McLean (The Lost Sister), and featuring his fellow scribes Mark Coggins, Dick Lochte, Declan Hughes, Lee Goldberg, and Joseph Finder. There was much to-ing and fro-ing of opinion about the quality of Parker’s later works, but all of the panelists agreed that his
influence on P.I. fiction cannot be underestimated. At the end of that
discussion, Boston author Finder, who’d been a friend of Parker and his wife,
Joan, read an extremely moving letter that Joan had sent him, recalling what
her husband’s life and work had meant to their family. Prominent in that letter
was a reminder of Bob Parker’s stand against injustice and his respect for “the
little guy”–a characteristic that showed up, too, in Spenser.
Later, I approached Finder in the convention hotel’s bar and told him how touched I was by Joan’s missive. I mentioned that I wanted to write a letter back to her, explaining why her late husband’s work was so important to me, and how his novels had helped shape me into the man I am today. Finder was kind enough to give me the necessary contact information, and the first thing I did upon my return to England was to pen that letter. Here’s an excerpt:
Some of the so called British Golden Age [mystery] novels
had casual homophobia, anti-Semitism and racism, which was a feature of the
period that those books were written in (and included Ian Fleming, Agatha
Christie, etc.). I, however, loved the Spenser novels by your late husband;
because they were the complete opposite–compassionate and liberal. I followed
the adventures of Spenser and Hawk with alacrity, first discovering them in a
second-hand bookstall in Cheshire (dog-eared U.S. paperbacks). Spenser and Hawk
became my friends as a teenager, and I enjoyed their company and how they stood
up for the underdog. I recall my excitement when I cracked the spine of The Judas Goat , when
Spenser and Hawk came to London, England, it was wonderful!
In response, Joan sent me a delightful e-mail note, thanking me for my letter. And after scanning it in its entirety, she posted my message on the Robert B. Parker Facebook page. Then she sent me this e-note, which provided an early insight into Bob Parker and his insistence on standing up for society’s underdogs:
Dear Ali–Thank you so much for your very kind letter. I am
so touched by your story and grateful that you chose to share it with me. I
will share a story with you. Bob and I went to Colby College together–and at that time it was very important to belong to a fraternity. Bob’s very close friend was one of the few black students admitted to Colby at that time. Bob was invited to join Lambda Chi Alpha–his friend was not. We were not
dating at the time, but Bob was my best friend, and after a few months of
living in the Lambda House, he confided in me, his outrage at what was
apparently an unwritten edit of Lambda membership. That is, no blacks allowed.
[W]e were both disgusted and appalled by this–but Bob acted quickly and
renounced his membership–moved out of the fraternity house and made a point of
registering his outrage with the national chapter of Lambda. The year was
1950–and this was a bold gesture on Bob’s part–but more than that–it was a
principal held to so deeply… that he couldn’t have done otherwise. He was the
most principled man I had ever met. I was impressed–I still am. Thank you
again, Ali, for sharing your story… All the best, Joan
To close out my panel presentation in Albany, I read that letter out loud to the audience. While there had been much laughter during most of our discussion, this message from Joan–who passed away this June–was greeted with respectful silence. I think Spenser and Hawk would be pleased that the final words spoken during this P.I. panel event celebrated the life of their creator.
This is sad news, quoted from The Boston Globe:
Joan Parker, the philanthropist and widow of mystery writer
Robert B. Parker, has died. Parker, a longtime Cambridge [Massachusetts] resident,
died Tuesday, according to Helen Brann, a longtime friend and agent to Robert
B. Parker. Joan Parker had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in August
2011, and was receiving treatment. A tireless fundraiser for a host of
different charities, Parker was barely slowed by her illness. Last month, she
co-chaired the annual fund-raiser of PFLAG, a national nonprofit supporting
parents, families, and friends of lesbians and gays. (Parker’s two children,
Dan and David, are both gay.)
You’ll recall that Bob Parker, who created the very popular fictional Boston private eye Spenser, died in January 2010 at age 77–but not before repeatedly dedicating his many novels to his wife, the former Joan Hall, whom he fell in love with during a freshman dance at Maine’s Colby College in 1950, while they were both students there. The pair were married in 1956. She went to become the inspiration for the character of
Spenser’s longtime girlfriend, Susan Silverman, a school guidance counselor
I hadn’t expected Joan Parker to perish quite so soon after her husband’s demise. I never met her (though I did once share frappés with author Parker), but I was always given to understood that she was a woman of tremendous drive, and not one to succumb easily to the demands of death. Fortunately, she was also committed to continuing her husband’s legacy, and put the Spenser series into the capable, respectful hands of Ace Atkins before she passed away.
(Hat tip to Kevin R. Tipple.)
READ MORE: “Robert B. Parker Is Dead! Long Live Robert B. Parker!,” by Zac Bissonnette (The Boston Globe Magazine).
No, that’s not the name of a high-powered law firm. It’s a summary of a book that may be a bit off the regular reading path of my visitors here. It’s a collection of new essays by some of today’s best writers of P.I. mysteries about another very important writer, the late Robert B. Parker, creator of the Boston P.I., Spenser. The book, “In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero“, is edited by Otto Penzler, of the Mysterious Press and the Mysterious Bookshop.
Readers of this blog know that I don’t write about hard-boiled P.I. books very often – they’re really not my speed. But it is also undeniably true that Robert B. Parker has been tremendously influential on many of today’s authors who are in what might properly be called the Hammett-Chandler-Parker tradition. The table of contents of “In Pursuit of Spenser” includes familiar names such as Ace Atkins (who has been chosen to continue the Spenser series), Lawrence Block, Dennis Lehane, Max Allan Collins, Parnell Hall and S. J. Rozan. There are essays on different aspects of Parker’s skills, Spenser’s character and about some of the other regulars in the series. There’s a good introduction from Otto Penzler. And there’s a bonus treat: “Spenser: A Profile,” originally written by Parker for the Mysterious Bookshop, now available to a wider readership.
“In Pursuit of Spenser” has been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical this year by the Mystery Writers of America. It has been published by the Smart Pop imprint of the alliteratively-named Ben Bella Books, which was kind enough to provide me with a copy for this review. If you enjoy Spenser, or if you merely want to learn more about an important author in the wider mystery field, you will enjoy this book.
Author Robert B. Parker may have died almost three years ago, but his literary legacy lives on. I already knew that Ace Atkins is
continuing Parker’s series about Boston private eye Spenser
(the next installment of which, due out in May 2013, will be titled Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland) and that motion-picture
producer Michael Brandman is composing additional titles in Parker’s Jesse Stone series (including Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice, which appeared this last fall).
But what I hadn’t realized until earlier today was that Parker’s 19th-century
Western series featuring Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole isn’t riding off into the sunset either. Actor/writer Robert Knott, who–with fellow performer Ed Harris–adapted and produced the 2008 film Appaloosa
(based on Parker’s 2005 novel of the same name), has penned at least one new
Hitch/Cole novel, Robert B. Parker’s Ironhorse, which is scheduled for
release by U.S. publisher Putnam on January 8 of next year.
After all of this, can we expect to see further
adventures for Parker’s other Beantown gumshoe, Sunny Randall? Don’t
bet against it.
I have to admit, I stopped reading Robert B. Parker’s novels several years ago, and as a result I missed his last few Spenser novels. I may have to go back and catch up on them, because I just read ROBERT B. PARKER’S LULLABY, the first Spenser pastiche by Ace Atkins, and it’s given me a taste for the series again.
The main thing to say about LULLABY is that I liked it and I’m looking forward to reading any other Spenser novels that Atkins writes.
The last time I felt like this reading a book was when I was reading The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais.
When I read that debut of PI Elvis Cole I was so pleased to see someone understood the greatness of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series but managed to give it his own twist. Through the years Crais developed his own voice and Cole became more and more unique. That bodes well for the future of James Phoenix and Fenway Burke.
In this novel we follow PI Fenway Burke’s defeat at the hands of a dangerous assassin and his return in a way that reminded me of Spenser’s defeat at the hands of the Grey Man (in Small Vices). There’s also his meeting with Harvard lawyer Megan who gives Susan Silverman a run for her money when it comes to intelligence.
The surprises here are that they actually get married and start a family, taking the idea of the Spenser series (a tough guy involved in a steady relationship with an intelligent woman) to the next level.
I really enjoyed how Fenway schooled himself to be more of an intellectual equal to Megan.
There’s a few Hawk-like guys in here as well, Ax and . They’re not Pike or Hawk yet, but I’m sure they’ll grow on me in the novels to come. I do think I like Fenway’s dogs better than Pearl.
I liked the Spenser references that will appeal to the hardcore fans, like a Starbucks versus Dunking Donuts discussion for instance.
One of my favorite books this year… Get it here.
This week, I devote my Kirkus Reviews column to an assessment of Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby–the first installment in Ace Atkins’ new series of Spenser novels–and In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero, a collection of essays about Parker’s work and life, edited by Otto Penzler.
Of Lullaby, I write in part:
… Atkins spends so much time trying to capture the wit and melody of Parker’s prose, that it can be hard to spot his peculiar fingerprints on Lullaby. Some of Atkins’ contributions may be perceived only by veteran readers of Spenser’s adventures, as they’re subtle allusions to the gumshoe’s original outings. At one point, for instance, Spenser recalls watching Fourth of July fireworks with Brenda Loring, a “nubile secretary” he dated before falling for Susan Silverman (“I wondered what ever became of her…”). Elsewhere he considers working on a long-neglected chunk of wood that he probably last took his carving knife to in Parker’s first couple of books. And Spenser has started to drink Amstel Light beer again, once a staple of his diet.
What’s also distinctive about Lullaby, though, is a seemingly renewed sense of interest in Boston as a setting.
You can look up–and, I hope, enjoy–my whole Kirkus piece here.