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Bipartisan mourning for Robert B. Parker

While the nation’s eyes focused on Massachusetts’ U.S. Senate race today, a very sad piece of news came in from Boston: Robert B. Parker -- who created Spenser, the existential detective -- died at the age of 77.

I loved Parker’s novels (he wrote 65 of them), particularly his detective stories, because they turned the city of Boston and its environs into a revered character. If you have a passion for Boston, you have a passion for Parker’s work. (Click here for an audio tour Parker offered of his city to NPR listeners.)

With Spenser you could listen to the Red Sox, dine at Legal Sea Foods, drink at the Ritz, jog along the Charles River, walk through Back Bay and hit the heavy bag at Henry Cimoli's Harbor Health Club. You could also trace the changes in Boston over Parker’s 37-year writing career. Henry’s, a place once reserved for guys who like to fight, is now hopelessly upscale. Spenser kept hitting the speed bag there because loyalty is one of his highest values. Parker invented two other heroes, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, and they, too, were thoroughly rooted in their locale.

Parker also showed that great writing could be simple and spare. Raymond Chandler was his role model, and Parker actually completed and published an unfinished Chandler novel. You read the books as much for the wise cracks and acerbic asides as for the plots. And like all tough guys, Parker’s characters (especially Spenser) were romantics. No love was greater than Spenser’s for Susan Silverman, his gorgeous (so Spenser kept telling us) psychiatrist girlfriend.

As they make their furious rounds today on behalf of Martha Coakley and Scott Brown, may the Bay State’s political activists pause a moment to remember the writer who, in creating Boston heroes, became one himself.

By E.J. Dionne  | January 19, 2010; 3:36 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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I am a Bostonian that lives abroad. Every Parker book brought me home as surely as any airplane.

Posted by: DLN1 | January 19, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

You are right. Boston should note his passing. In all the years I read the Spenser books, I think I only found one that truly disappointed me. Few writers have such a record.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | January 19, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Ahhhhhhhhh! I just found this out reading your column. I have enjoyed reading Robert B Parker's books for years and thought he had just started. It is so tragic to lose a great friend.

Posted by: 2009frank | January 19, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

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