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Robert B. Parker, who created one of literature’s most enduring series of crime novels, about the Boston private detective Spenser, as well as a range of other books over a 37-year career as a novelist, died yesterday at age 77. The popular and prolific author reportedly was at his desk, in his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, when he passed away of a heart attack.

In addition to the Spenser novels, he also wrote a series of books about Jesse Stone, an alcoholic police chief (played by Tom Selleck in a lauded series of TV movies), and his fourth western is due out later this year, about gunslingers Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. (The first in the series of westerns was “Appaloosa,” which was turned into a much-praised movie written and directed by Ed Harris, who also starred as Cole.) In all, he wrote more than 60 novels in a career that only started when he was in his forties.

In a wonderful appreciation published in the this morning, Tom Nolan wrote:

“He wrote dialogue that at once informed, amused and gave a sense of character; and he conjured characters a reader wanted to spend more time with—especially Spenser, a fixed point in a footloose world, take him or leave him. A pragmatist whose ethics were situational. A tough and decent type who did what needed to be done in the service of a moral cause, affirming the worth of the individual regardless of race, sexual orientation, social status, age or occupation. He made timeless points that need to be remade every generation, in a society ever able to find ways to betray the public and private trust.

“The books were addictive, entertaining, amusing—and, in their low-key way, moving. Critics prefer the earliest ones as being more substantive. Readers gobbled up the later ones for their sensibility, tone of voice, and point of view: that wised-up, can-do attitude, with no phonies allowed.”
KC's View:
Longtime readers of MNB will know that I have long been an enormous fan of Parker’s, and looked forward to each of the three books he published each year. If there is a silver lining, it is that Parker was a workhorse; he had three novels already scheduled for publication in 2010, and there reportedly are at least a couple more Spenser novels in the pipeline.

As a fairly young journalist, I once had the opportunity to interview Parker; I think it was in conjunction with the publication of “A Catskill Eagle.” I can vividly remember driving to Boston to meet him at the bar of the Ritz, a location often used in the Spenser novels. He was kind and patient, and answered every question as if he’d never heard it before, though I’m sure that at some level he’d heard all the questions before. He wasn’t a tall man by any means, though his thick muscularity wasn’t disguised by the natty navy blazer he wore. Parker also had an enormous grin that suggested he was enjoying his life more than anyone had a right to.

When the interview was over, he insisted on paying for the beer; it was just the capstone on an afternoon that remains one of the best I’ve ever had as a reporter - meeting and talking to, and being taken seriously by, someone I idolized. Parker used to say that he believed that the reason people liked his books was that the language had almost musical beats, and they could hear it even as they read it. For me, and a lot of people like me, that language was part of the soundtrack of our lives. Short, punchy sentences. Colorful dialog. Vivid characters. Literature’s comfort food, may be the best way to describe it.

It’s funny. Just the other day, a young reporter called me up and asked if we could meet so he could interview me about our new book, “The Big Picture.” I had an inspiration. I told him about Parker buying me a beer at the Ritz, and confided that it had always been my fantasy to be on the other side of the table, to be the one with the book, and to have the opportunity to buy a young journalist a beer. So we agreed to meet at a place called the River Cat Grill, which happens to be mentioned in “The Big Picture.” I’m going to buy him a beer.

These arrangements were made before I found that Robert B. Parker had died. When we do it, tomorrow afternoon, it will have even greater resonance for me. And I’ll quietly toast Robert B. Parker for being such a big part of my reading life. He hasn’t been gone long, and there still are books of his to read. Spenser and Hawk and Susan and Jesse and Virgil and Everett will live on, even if just in our minds and imaginations, as all memorable fictional creations do.

But I already miss him.