Robert B. Parker died on Monday at the age of 77. I learned of the passing of one of the great private eye writers of the modern era from the excellent and consistently informative blogs of Bill Crider (who met Parker a couple of times) and Sarah Weinman, and I was sorry to learn the news. For I have read perhaps nine or ten of his books, and enjoyed them.
Parker is most famous for creating Spenser, the gumshoe whose first name remained (as far as I am aware) unknown. The Spenser books are very much in the Raymond Chandler tradition, and are distinguished by a real gift for dialogue. There were times when I found the main supporting character, the lovely Susan and the violent Hawk, a bit hard to take for different reasons, but Parker’s snappy way with words made his books insistently readable. He wrote fairly short books, and although it is fashionable to write books twice as long, many writers (including me) can learn from Parker’s succinct style.
I’d like to mention a non-series Parker book which I devoured a long time ago, not long after I started work in 1980. I can’t recall much about the detail of the plot, but I do remember thinking it was one of the most gripping thrillers I’d ever read. It’s a book called Wilderness, and it’s the story of a relatively ordinary man confronting the darker side of life after witnessing a murder, and finding himself plunged into a fight for survival. I really must re-read it to see if it’s as good now as it seemed then. I suspect it is.