I'm still trying to come to grips with the news of Robert B. Parker's death yesterday. He was certainly a great writer, one of the best of his genre. I believe there is no currently active mystery writer who is unacquainted with his work. Everybody who reads detective fiction seems to have an opinion on him and his books, especially the highly popular and influential Spenser series.
Parker blew life into the detective novel when such stories had fallen out of favor. Are any other writers mentioned in the same breath as Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald? He gave us such memorable characters as Spenser "That's Spenser with an 's', like the poet.", a romantic thug who likes to cook and read poetry, Susan Silverman, Hawk, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and an extraordinary supporting cast.
Parker wrote 65 novels, an impressive output by any standard. Looking for Rachel Wallace is a classic of the detective genre, and, in my opinion, one of the books anyone who aspires to being a mystery writer must read. Not all of his books were great, but I never found one that wasn't readable and entertaining. Aren't those the goals we all strive for? Some people hated his stories, while others loved them. He has a lot of imitators. In the tributes to Parker that have appeared since the sad announcement, one word keeps coming up--stylist. He took great pains with his style, and even among all the imitators, his style is readily identifiable, especially in his dialogue and his use of white space.
I think his greatest contribution to the detective genre is Susan Silverman. The earlier detectives were all lone men and a few women, who, though they may have had frequent liaisons with the opposite sex, were incapable of entering complex, committed, loving relationships. The women or men with whom they did have relationships tended to be weak, one-dimensional characters. Susan was different. She was a match for Spenser in every way. She was beautiful, refined, intelligent and accomplished. She was better educated than Spenser and her professional practice surely brought in more money than Spenser's. Sometimes they were cloyingly cute, but when Parker was at his best, Spenser and Susan sparkled like Tracey and Hepburn. They explored many different, complicated aslpects of a relationship that lasted thirty-six years. Imagine that, a thirty-six year romance in a hard-boiled mystery series. God Save the Child, which introduced Susan in 1974 was a landmark book and the detective genre was changed forever. If your detective has an emotionally complex, if not satisfying, relationship with another character, thank Robert B. Parker for that.
Robert B. Parker was 77. He died at his desk. We'll miss him.