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Two Boston writers

Matt Schudel

Two novelists with ties to Boston, Robert B. Parker and Erich Segal, died in recent days. There isn't much outward similarity between Parker, 77, the author of the hard-boiled Spenser novels, and Segal, 72, whose "Love Story" may be the ultimate in sentimental romance. Of course, the schmaltzy theme song by Francis Lai, contributed a lot to the over-the-top emotionalism of the film, which is one of the all-time great tearjerkers.

Both Parker and Segal lived in Cambridge, Mass., -- Parker for much of his life -- and both had PhD's in literature, Parker from Boston University and Segal from Harvard. They wrote about two sides of Boston -- the gritty, everyday side of town (Parker) and the rarefied halls and quads of Harvard and Radcliffe (Segal). Segal often wrote about Harvard in his other novels ("Oliver's Story," "The Class," "Doctors"), and Parker's private-eye duo, Spenser and his cool sidekick Hawk -- memorably played on television by Robert Urich and Avery Brooks -- were always walking Boston's mean streets, getting in and out of trouble.

Segal once had ambitions of cracking the literary big time, was a good storyteller, but his writing was roundly pummeled by critics. Parker, whose work was much closer to the ground, was clearly the better and more lasting writer of the two. Let's put it this way: The snow in "Love Story" is always fresh and white; the snow in the Spenser novels is always turning gray.

By Matt Schudel  |  January 20, 2010; 11:54 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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