Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert B. Parker, 1932-2010

In the mid 1980s I had a weekly book review column in the Northwest Herald, a newspaper covering the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I tried to review as many genres as possible, hoping to interest readers of all stripes and also striving to interest nonreaders as well. I reviewed everything except science fiction since I don't like it, don't read it, and therefore don't know anything about it.

Many years earlier I had tried two or three mystery novels of the Sam Spade type since my mother had been reading them for years. I was offended by the depiction of women as either beautiful but stupid bimbos or saintly mothers, both of which ended up as victims. The love-em-and-leave-em heroes and the torture-em-and-kill-em villains were equally offensive to me. Never read any of them again.

Finally, because I had watched "Spenser for Hire" on television and was interested in reviewing another genre, I picked up what was then a new book by Parker called Taming a Sea-Horse. Well of course I loved it - the witty dialogue, the fascinating characters, recognizing Boston settings (a city I love), everything. From then on I was hooked, especially on Parker books, but in general addicted to mysteries. Still am for that matter.

I read everything I could find by Robert B. Parker and accumulated a collection of his books which I still have.

I'll always think of Hawk as Avery Brooks. That character in particular is so mysterious and interesting, but so is Spenser's girlfriend Dr. Susan Silverman. Each character is not simply witty, but also urbane, well-dressed, multifaceted, intelligent, and has a good heart. These are mysteries after all and Spenser and Hawk don't shy away from killing the bad guys, but of course they're always on the right side. I like the fact that Spenser loves one woman and remains true to her, and even sexy Hawk ends up with a beautiful intelligent woman who he treats well.

I liked his two newer series, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, too but Spenser is first in my heart.

Every book is dedicated to Parker's wife Joan. My favorite of all the books is called Three Weeks in Spring which was published in 1978. It's a small book written by the two of them. In 1976 when Joan and "Ace" had been married for 20 years, she found a lump in her breast which proved to be malignant. She chose to have a modified radical mastectomy. The book is about how the two of them, their sons David and Daniel who were 16 and 12 then, and their close friends got through this terrible time. Parker was loving and supportive throughout, but their sense of humor certainly helped. Their book made me cry and laugh and I read it a second time (which I never do).

I've read that it was Joan who found him dead of a heart attack at his desk. A fitting end I suppose, but at 77 much too soon. I feel so badly for Joan, David and Daniel and I also feel sorry that he's gone from mystery writing. I hope Joan will be comforted by how much his fans loved his books and how much we will all miss him.

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