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Robert B. Parker 1932-2010

January 21, 2010

Robert B. Parker, author of 37 novels featuring the Boston-based private eye Spenser, has died, aged 77. Parker is credited with reviving interest (and sales) in the hard-boiled private eye novel, which by the 1960s had begun to seem anachronistic and played out. Parker, as J. Kingston Pierce puts it in the interview included in this tribute, had “the misfortune to be overeducated”. He wrote a PhD dissertation on Hammett and Chandler and was a professor at Northeastern University in Boston. When I began my own PhD on Chandler in the early 1990s Parker’s was one of only a few then written on the subject. For good or ill, as an indirect result of Parker’s influence on the popularity of crime fiction in general, by the end of the decade the number of academic papers was growing fast.

Parker began writing the Spenser novels in the early 1970s because he wanted more stories about Philip Marlowe. He later completed Chandler’s unfinished eighth Marlowe novel Poodle Springs and could channel Chandler like no other; a difficult task given the ease with which Chandler can be parodied. But his writing is also distinctively Parker and in novels such as 1980’s Looking for Rachel Wallace, as smart as any.

A great deal has already been written about Parker and his legacy. In particular Sarah Weinman is doing a great job rounding up the tributes and obituaries as is J. Kingston Pierce at The Rap Sheet.

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