Spenser creator dies

2010-02-03 00:00

The Professional

Robert B. Parker


HAVING just written the notes for a review of The Professional I learned that Robert B. Parker had died.

The Professional is the 37th outing for Spenser. Unfortunately it’s not one of the best of the series which ­began with The Godwulf Manuscript back in 1973 that I read when it was first ­published. Years earlier, beside ­myself with boredom, I picked up The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. I wolfed it down and thereafter ­followed Chandler’s hero, Philip ­Marlowe, down every mean street he cared to go.

I was hooked on American private eye fiction and Chandler was the benchmark. Nothing else seemed to measure up, not even Dashiell Hammett. There was Ross MacDonald, but his hero Lew Archer always seemed to be adrift in the same book. Chandler was dead and he remained king.

Then came The Godwulf Manuscript. A few chapters in I realised this was the heir to Chandler I had been waiting for and read on until I finished it in the small hours. That was over thirty years ago ....

Parker was a professor of English, and it shows. Take his hero’s name, Spenser. “With an ‘S’”. Like the ­Elizabethan playwright, forenamed Edmund and contemporary of one Christopher, surnamed Marlowe. “Ah ha,” as Spenser would say, a veritable clue, if not a homage.

Spenser (we never get to learn his first name) has most of the Marlowe traits — a certain world-weariness perked up with great one-liners. But with the Spenser character, Parker turns the archetypal private eye hero — and the genre — on its head.

How? He has Spenser commit to a relationship with a woman, Susan ­Silverman, who, along with sidekick Hawk, features in nearly all the books. So, what’s the big deal? Look back at Marlowe, or any private eye for that matter. Any relationship lies in the past, usually a sour memory. The solitary Marlowe proceeds to right the wrongs of the world like some celibate Galahad. But with Spenser the private eye comes in from the cold and accommodates intimacy. Spenser’s relationship with Silverman is chronicled through the ensuing books, providing a thread for ­Parker to examine issues of gender and identity. Who says men don’t ­express their feelings?

Parker wrote over 60 books including some stand-alone novels and two other series, one with female private eye Sunny Randall who began life as a character written for Helen Hunt for a film that was never made, and cop Jesse Stone. Not content with the Spenser/Randall/Stone series, Parker looked to be setting up a Western franchise as well, featuring gunslingers Virgil Cole and Everrett Hitch. Their first outing, Appaloosa, (turned into an excellent film by Ed Harris) has had two follow-ups so far.

The 77-year-old Parker died of a heart attack while sitting at his writing desk. He wrote five pages a day, every day except Sunday. The professional.

According to his agent there are still a couple of Spenser novels. We haven’t heard the last word from Parker just yet.

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