Robert B. Parker just died. Supposedly while writing at his desk. He was 78.
I'm really bummed.
I know in certain circles it was almost obligatory to dismiss him. And, distressingly, some of the most petty sniping came from a small but vocal slew of his writing contemporaries who -- just coincidentally, of course -- never achieved his commercial success. The backlash began about the time he won an Edgar for THE PROMISED LAND back in 1977 and has continued ever since. It'll be interesting to see the response (and the backtracking from the sour grapes brigade) in the next few days.
But his influence on the P.I. genre (and the mystery genre as a whole) over the last thirty or forty years is undeniable. Anyone who says differently hasn't been paying attention.
And his recent output was truly impressive (especially coming at a time when most writers have retired or have rested on their laurels for years): a successful western series, a couple of acclaimed young adult novels, solid entries in a couple of series and even last year's THE PROFESSIONAL showed that his greatest creation, Spenser, still had plenty of juice. It's a swell read: a tight, sly retelling of Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN and a surprisingly touching, nuanced and perceptive exploration of friendship and loyalty and love -- typical Parker themes, perhaps, but as always he managed to inject poignancy and resonance into the proceedings. And keep the reader turning pages.
Parker's work also provided the inspiration for some great viewing over the last few years, APPALOOSA, with Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris, and one of the more enjoyable and welcome TV comebacks -- Tom Selleck in the Jesse Stone TV films, based on Parker's series about a small town police chief in Massachusetts.
I never met the man. But I enjoyed his books immensely. And as a bookseller, I enjoyed recommending his various books to customers. They were seldom dissatisfied, and usually returned asking things like "Did this guy write anything else?"
Millions of other people apparently had the same reaction. And a whole generation of younger mystery writers cite him as a major influence.
As Harlan Coben, no slouch himself, once put it, "When it comes to detective novels, 90 percent of us admit he's an influence, and the rest of us lie about it."
I could go on -- and probably will over the next few days-- but trust me, one of the truly great ones has left us.
Kevin Burton Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site
"Wasting your time on the web since 1998."
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