Back many, many years ago while starting off in the book trade, I expressed my admiration for Robert Parker to a canny book buyer at a NY city store. Agreeing with me, he nonetheless directed to some other writers- Stephen Greenleaf, Loren Estlemann, Joseph Hansen, James Crumley- who had breathed new life into the “down these mean streets a man must go who himself is not mean” p.i. genre. They wrote out there on the margins of popularity and their excellence never broke them through to best-seller status. The world’s loss I say, my gain.
Robert Parker of course did achieve bestseller status and richly deserved it was too. I don’t think I’ve ever picked up one of his books that wasn’t enjoyable, some tremendously so. His finest creation, Spenser, (“like the poet”) is an essential part of the private eye canon. And though he went on to write other excellent novels, it is Spenser he will be remembered for. And according to my friend the book buyer, like many an author before him Parker had at one point tired of Spenser and decided to “kill him”.
The story, maybe apocryphal, goes like this. Parker approaches his publisher with an idea for a new Spenser novel. Susan, Spenser’s inamorata, leaves Spenser for another man. Spenser, spiralling into drink and despair, seeks her out and insane with jealousy, tries to kill her. He in turn is tracked down by Hawk and is himself killed. Hawk and Susan ride off into the sunset together. It’s Parker and Spenser’s Reichenbach Falls moment and there is no escape.
Understandably the publisher is appalled at this murder of his cash cow and uses every weapon in his armory to persuade Parker against this course. Successfully so and a novel appears, “Catskill Eagle” which resembles this plot, without Hawk having to off Spenser and with our hero getting the girl back.
Maybe the publisher should have let Parker have his way, if indeed he did want to bump off his creation. After “Catskill Eagle”, an off-kilter novel that reads more like Rambo than Spenser, the series veers off into pleasurable ordinariness, fun but not the edgy reconstruct of the genre of the earlier novels. Still, if you’ve never read “Looking for Rachel Wallace” or “Early Autumn” you could do a lot worse than pick them up and spend some time with one of detective fictions great characters.
Rest in Peace big man.