Parker, Robert B. 1932–

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Parker, Robert B. 1932–

(Robert Brown Parker)

PERSONAL: Born September 17, 1932, in Springfield, MA; son of Carroll Snow (a telephone company executive) and Mary Pauline (Murphy) Parker; married Joan Hall (an education specialist), August 26, 1956; children: David F., Daniel T. Education: Colby College, B.A., 1954; Boston University, M.A., 1957, Ph.D., 1970.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Helen Brann Agency, 94 Curtis Rd., Bridgewater, CT 06752.

CAREER: Novelist. Curtiss-Wright Co., Woodridge, NJ, management trainee, 1957; Raytheon, Co., Andover, MA, technical writer, 1957–59; Prudential Insurance Co., Boston, MA, advertising writer, 1959–62; Parker-Farman Co. (advertising agency), Boston, partner, 1960–62; film consultant to Arthur D. Little, 1962–64; Boston University, lecturer in English, 1962–64; Massachusetts State College at Lowell (now University of Lowell), instructor in English, 1964–66; Massachusetts State College at Bridgewater, instructor in English, 1966–68; Northeastern University, Boston, assistant professor, 1968–74, associate professor, 1974–76, professor of English, 1976–79. Lecturer, Suffolk University, 1965–66. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954–56.

MEMBER: Writers Guild, Writers League of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award from Mystery Writers of America, 1976, for Promised Land; Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America, 2002.


(With others) The Personal Response to Literature, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1970.

(With Peter L. Sandberg) Order and Diversity: The Craft of Prose, John Wiley (New York, NY), 1973.

(With John R. Marsh) Sports Illustrated Weight Training: The Athlete's Free-Weight Guide, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1974.

(With wife, Joan Parker) Three Weeks in Spring (nonfiction), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

Wilderness (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1979.

Love and Glory (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1983.

The Private Eye in Hammett and Chandler, Lord John (Northridge, CA), 1984.

Parker on Writing, Lord John (Northridge, CA), 1985.

(With Raymond Chandler) Poodle Springs, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Joan Parker) A Year at the Races, photographs by William Strode, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.

Perchance to Dream: Robert B. Parker's Sequel to Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep" (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.

All Our Yesterdays (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.

Spenser's Boston, photographs by Kasho Kumagai, Otto Penzler (New York, NY), 1994.

Boston: History in the Making, Towery Publications (Memphis, TN), 1999.

Gunnman's Rhapsody (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Double Play (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.

Author, sometimes with wife, Joan Parker, of scripts for television series Spencer: For Hire and B.L. Stryker, and for television movies based on Spenser: For Hire television series for A&E television network. Contributor to Lock Haven Review and Revue des langues vivantes; contributor of restaurant reviews to Boston Magazine, 1976.


The Godwulf Manuscript (also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1974.

God Save the Child (also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1974.

Mortal Stakes (also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1975, reprinted, ImPress (Pleasantville, NY), 2002.

Promised Land (also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1976.

The Judas Goat, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

Looking for Rachel Wallace, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1980.

Early Autumn, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.

A Savage Place, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.

Surrogate: A Spenser Short Story, Lord John (Northridge, CA), 1982.

Ceremony, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1982.

The Widening Gyre, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1983.

Valediction, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.

A Catskill Eagle, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1985.

Taming a Sea-Horse, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1986.

Pale Kings and Princes, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1987.

Crimson Joy, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.

Playmates, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.

The Early Spenser: Three Complete Novels (contains The Godwulf Manuscript, God Save the Child, and Mortal Stakes), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1989.

Stardust, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.

Pastime, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.

Double Deuce, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.

Paper Doll, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.

Walking Shadow, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.

Thin Air, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.

Three Complete Novels (contains The Godwulf Manuscript, Mortal Stakes, and Promised Land), Wings Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Chance, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

Small Vices, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.

Sudden Mischief, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.

Hush Money, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.

Potshot, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Hugger Mugger, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Widow's Walk, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

Back Story, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

Bad Business, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.


Night Passage, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.

Trouble in Paradise, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.

Death in Paradise, Putnam (New York), 2001.

Stone Cold, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

Sea Change, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.


Family Honor, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.

Perish Twice, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

Shrink Rap, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

ADAPTATIONS: The American Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) television series Spenser: For Hire was based on Parker's works, 1985–88; film rights were sold to many "Spenser" series novels; Family Honor was optioned for a film starring actress Helen Hunt.

SIDELIGHTS: Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" novel series represents "the best American hard-boiled detective fiction since Ross Macdonald and Raymond Chandler," according to Armchair Detective writer Anne Ponder. A Boston-based private detective whose first name has never been revealed through more than a quarter century of detective novels, Parker's Spenser has proven to be a popular and enduring sleuth, at once hard-boiled and sensitive, equally able to make wisecracks and literary allusions. "Not for nothing is Parker regarded as the reigning champion of the American toughboy detective novel, heavyweight division," wrote Gene Lyons in Entertainment Weekly. "The man has rarely composed a bad sentence or an inert paragraph." Many elements have conspired to assure Spenser's success, among them Parker's writing style, a well-conceived Boston setting, and secondary characters who are far more than ornamentation for the hero. In a Booklist review of Small Vices, Parker's twenty-fifth "Spenser" novel, Bill Ott asked: "What is it about Spenser and his pals that makes it hard to stay away for long?… Spenser lives in the real world and deals with it the way we imagine we would if only we knew how."

Parker's career as a novelist began only after he spent years producing ad copy and technical writing for various companies. At his wife's urging, he completed his Ph.D. and entered the teaching profession to gain more time for his own writing projects. "Being a professor and working are not the same thing," Parker explained to Wayne Warga in the Los Angeles Times. In a Toronto Globe and Mail interview with Ian Brown, Parker expressed his feelings about the university environment even more frankly: "The academic community is composed largely of nitwits. If I may generalize. People who don't know very much about what matters very much, who view life through literature rather than the other way around…. In my fourteen or sixteen years in the profession, I've met more people that I did not admire than at any other point in my life. Including two years in the infantry, where I was the only guy who could read."

It took two and a half years of writing in his spare time for Parker to complete his first fiction manuscript, but only three weeks for it to be accepted for publication. Parker's doctoral thesis examined the classic detective fiction of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and his first novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, presents a detective in the tradition of the fictional Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. A Boston policeman turned private eye after being fired for insubordination, Spenser is "a man's man, all six feet plus of him, a former professional fighter, a man who can take on any opposition," related Newgate Callendar in the New York Times Book Review. The character's traditional toughness is balanced by his "honesty and his sensitivity," continued Callendar. "Spenser may be something of a smart aleck but only when he is faced with pomposity and pretension. Then he reacts, sometimes violently. He is educated and well read, though he never parades his knowledge. His girlfriend is the perfect woman, as smart as he is, and so he never has to chase around. Pushed as he is by his social conscience, he is sometimes dogged enough to seem quixotic."

Parker followed The Godwulf Manuscript with God Save the Child, Mortal Stakes, Promised Land, and several other "Spenser" novels, and the series' success soon enabled him to quit his teaching post and devote himself to writing full-time. The author has estimated that it takes him three to five months to write a "Spenser" adventure. While some critics find the resulting works thinly plotted, Parker has been widely praised for his evocative descriptions and his sharp, witty dialogue, as well as for introducing a more human, emotional tone to the hard-boiled detective genre. H.R.F. Keating commented in the London Times that in the "Spenser" books "there is a concern with human beings that rises at times to compassion and perhaps falls at other times to that commonish complaint among American novelists, 'psychology showing through.' But the seriousness that this indicates is always well-compensated for by Parker's dialogue. Spenser is a wisecracking guy in the firm tradition of the Chandler shamus, and above and beyond this all the conversations in the books are splendidly swift and sharp." In a review of Pale Kings and Princes, Washington Post Book World contributor Jean M. White concurred that Parker "writes some of the snappiest and sauciest dialogue in the business … lean and taut and crisply told with moments of genuine humor and genuine poignancy." A Publishers Weekly correspondent, noting that Spenser "can still punch, sleuth and wisecrack with the best of them," found Parker's prose "as clean as a sea breeze."

One of Parker's most notable departures from his detective novelist predecessors is Spenser's monogamous commitment to his psychologist lover, Susan Silver-man. "By all the unwritten rules of private-eye fiction, that [relationship] should have handicapped Spenser's future literary prospects disastrously," declared Derrick Murdoch in the Toronto Globe and Mail. "Instead it has allowed him to develop into the most fully rounded characterization of an intelligent human being in the literature—a mixture of idealism, passion, strength, frailty and unselfish tenacity." In his Sons of Sam Spade, The Private-Eye Novel in the Seventies David Geherin also stated his belief that the Spenser character has "grown significantly, especially in the area of self-knowledge, thanks in part to the frequent confrontations between his ever-deepening relationship with Susan. Even when she is absent … her presence is felt…. Parker's handling of Spenser's relationship with Susan effectively disproves Chandler's assertion that the love story and the detective story cannot exist in the same book. Not only do they coexist in Parker's novels, the love story adds an element of tension by serving as a poignant reminder of the vast distance that separates the mean streets from the quiet ones." A Time reviewer emphasized, however, that for all the intellectual and romantic dialogue, Parker's novels never lack "slambang action."

Noting Parker's influence on the detective genre, Margaret Cannon explained in the Toronto Globe and Mail that "Spenser liberated the PI from California, gave him a whole new line of inquiry, and taught him to love." Furthermore, "with each novel Parker has exhibited growing independence from his predecessors, confidently developing his own themes, characters, and stylistic idiom," wrote Geherin. "However, despite his innovative efforts, he has remained faithful to the conventions of the genre, so effectively laid down by his predecessors," Geherin added. "He has thus earned for himself the right to be designated the legitimate heir to the Hammett-Chandler-Macdonald tradition, which, thanks to the efforts of writers like Parker, shows no signs of diminishing."

Parker is so clearly the heir of Chandler in particular that in 1988 the Chandler estate asked him to complete a thirty-page manuscript Chandler left uncompleted at his death. The result is Poodle Springs, a novel that carries both authors' names on its title page. Parker has also penned a sequel to Chandler's classic The Big Sleep, calling it Perchance to Dream: Robert B. Parker's Sequel to Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep." In the New York Times Book Review, Martin Amis criticized Chandler's portion of Poodle Springs, citing the master's stylistic lapses and his homophobia among other flaws, but Amis was even less charitable to the contributions made by Parker. Perchance to Dream, the critic wrote, "is a chaos of tawdry shortcuts," and the "character of Marlowe collapses" into an "affable goon." Ed McBain had high praise for the work, however, lamenting the inadequacy of Chandler's original Poodle Springs manuscript while lauding Parker's contributions "as a tribute to his enormous skill."

Another departure for Parker—or a harking back to his two mainstream novels, Wilderness and Love and Glory—is All Our Yesterdays, which New York Times Book Review contributor Walter Walker felt Parker wrote from a self-conscious desire to be taken seriously by the mainstream literary world. According to Walker, All Our Yesterdays "embraces two countries, two families, three generations, love, war, guilt, corruption, and angst." Despite some misgivings, Walker declared the novel to be "a most satisfying reading experience" in the same sense as the Spenser novels—that is, as "entertainment." Wendy Smith voiced similar reservations in the Washington Post, finding the novel "thoughtful, though structurally flawed." In his review for the Times Literary Supplement Karl Miller concluded that All Our Yesterdays "is expertly plotted and tersely written" and that "Spenser fans, and a fair number of professors of English, may be unable to put it down."

Parker took an infrequent side trip away from his usual Boston locale in the 2001 novel Gunman's Rhapsody, a retelling of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. The shootout involved lawman Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and their friend Doc Holliday, pitting these men against various outlaws roaming the area. Noting that Parker's characterization of Earp is "Spenser with spurs," Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky noted that every "Spenser" novel is in actuality standard Western fare: hard-edged men, prone to violence, in conflict over their code of honor. In Gunman's Rhapsody the author may be working familiar ground, but "no one does it better," concluded Lukowsky.

Parker mines the Western vein still further with the "Spenser" novel Potshot. In this book the detective and his cohorts travel west to solve the murder of a local man who dared to resist an outlaw group that had terrorized his town for years. The result is "a real treat for fans of the long-running Spenser series: a sort of class reunion in which Spenser and all his favorite fellow tough guys get together to trade quips and bang a few heads," recommended Bill Ott in Booklist. He further described the book as "a combination parody of and homage to" the classic western The Magnificent Seven, and Parker acknowledged the influence.

Although the characters in a "Spenser" novel do not age as living people do, their creator has allowed them to grow somewhat older during the course of the series. In Small Vices Spenser is nearly killed by an assassin, and spends much of the book recovering from the incident, ruminating on mortality and morality during the course of his painful rehabilitation. In her New York Times Book Review review, Marilyn Stasio declared that the mythic Spencer "has defied mortality altogether and become like some fertility god who lowers himself into the ground each winter and comes roaring back to life each spring. I say good luck to him." In Booklist Lukowsky commented on the longevity of the series in a piece on the novel Chance, concluding: "The Spenser series has had its ups and downs over more than twenty years, but this … entry finds the quick-witted sleuth and company to be in remarkably good health. Wonderfully entertaining reading."

Reviewers still waxed enthusiastic at Spenser's thirtieth appearance, Back Story, published in 2003. Inspired by the promise of a half-dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Spenser takes up the investigation of a very old case involving a murder that took place in the 1970s, during a revolutionary raid on a Boston bank. Back Story "showcases the strengths of the series," commented Booklist writer Connie Fletcher, noting the novel's "well-developed characters, a deftly constructed plot, dialogue that is witty and crisp without sounding pretentious, evocative settings, and that Parker extra, a clearly defined and beautifully executed moral code." The book's climactic chase scenes and action sequences reveal a writer at the top of his form, decided Stasio in the New York Times; "it doesn't get any more immediate than Spenser's nimbly choreographed shootout with three triggermen in Harvard Stadium." Back Story is also notable for briefly teaming Spenser with Jesse Stone, the protagonist of another detective series Parker has begun.

Stone is one of two new sleuths introduced by Parker in a novel series; Stone first appears in the book Night Passage. Alcoholic, depressed, and recently ditched by his wife, Stone has taken a job as chief of police in a Massachusetts town after being ousted from the Los Angeles police force. He has been hired by corrupt city officials who think he will not be effective, but he soon proves them wrong, uncovering a wealth of criminal activity and setting things right at no small peril to himself. In the New York Times Book Review, Stasio observed: "For all the obvious non-Spenserian qualities that determine his character—his relative youth, the drinking thing, his lousy taste in women, an absence of humor, his raw isolation and social insecurities—it is this capacity to change his life and redeem his soul that really distinguishes the appealingly flawed Jesse from Spenser." In Booklist Lukowsky contended that the "Stone" series "has a great deal going for it: an empathetic, painfully flawed protagonist; an atmospheric small-town setting rife with corruption; and a whole new set of fascinating secondary characters. Parker is a true craftsman."

Stone continued to get good reactions from reviewers in books that include Death in Paradise and Stone Cold. In the former, Stone finds the body of a murdered girl near his town's softball field. He must first figure out who she is, then unravel the puzzle of why she was killed. As the mystery plays out, readers also get more insight into Stone's personal life, including an ongoing relationship with his ex-wife. The sleuth's problems are "both interesting and completely believable," wrote Craig Shufelt in Library Journal, citing Death in Paradise as "another strong effort in what is already an impressive series." A Publishers Weekly writer called the novel "beautifully wrought," and added: "As usual with Parker these days … the book's ultimate pleasure lies in the words, suffused with a tough compassion won only through years of living, presented in prose whose impeccability speaks of decades of careful writing." Reviewing Stone Cold for Entertainment Weekly, Bruce Fretts went so far as to say that while Parker was most famous for Spenser, the author's "most rewardingly complicated shamus might be Jesse Stone."

Parker's third fictional PI was created at the request of Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt, who asked Parker to write a novel featuring a female investigator Hunt could play in a feature film. Parker obliged, and the result was Family Honor, a story in which the heroine, Boston resident Sunny Randall, saves a teenage runaway. Entertainment Weekly correspondent Clarissa Cruz described the novel as "a breezy thriller that pits a petite blonde PI against shadowy mobster bruisers and a shady suburban couple. Accompanied by her mini bull terrier and guntoting gay sidekick, Randall tries to stay a step ahead of the underworld heavies." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Sunny "a female Spenser," adding: "How to live correctly is this novel's theme, as it is in the best Spenser novels." The reviewer concluded that Family Honor is "a bravura performance" that "launches what promises to be a series for the ages."

Randall continues her career in the pages of Perish Twice, as she sorts through her friends' and relatives' relationship problems while also trying to protect a lesbian activist from a stalker. Tony Marcus, a gangster who challenges Spenser in other books, turns up to complicate the plot, and the novel evolves into "a wholly absorbing puzzle of confused motives and whodunits that Sunny picks at as doggedly as any PI going," advised a Publishers Weekly writer. "With its smooth blend of mystery, action and psychological probings," the critic added, Perish Twice ranks as "yet another first-rate, though not innovative, offering from a reliable old master." Booklist contributor Lukowsky also recommended Perish Twice as "vintage Parker: heart-racing action, stilleto-sharp dialogue, menacing tough guys, and very likable narrator/protagonist, and a moving romance." Sunny's third outing, Shrink Rap, was heralded as Parker's "strongest mystery in years" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer, and Connie Fletcher in Booklist described it as "an intriguing look at the psychology of manipulation combined with a knockout plot that builds to a truly creepy, hair-raising climax." Assessing the novelist's achievement as a whole, Jeff Zaleski concluded in Publishers Weekly: "Parker's influence on the detective novel is, arguably, nearly as great as Poe's or Conan Doyle's…. Parker has modernized the American private-eye novel beyond its pulp roots, bringing to it psychological realism and sociopolitical awareness."



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Book, September, 2000, Rochelle O'Gorman, review of Hugger Mugger (audio review), p. 85; May, 2001, Randy Michael Signor, review of Potshot, p. 74; August, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of Death in Paradise, p. 2052; September-October, 2002, "The Many Faces of Robert B. Parker," p. 21.

Booklist, September 1, 1994; March 1, 1996, p. 1077; January 1, 1997, p. 779; July 19, 1997, p. 1776; October 15, 1997, p. 390; January 1, 1998, p. 743; July, 1998, p. 1831; December 15, 1998, p. 707; May 15, 1999, Karen Harris, review of Night Passage and Trouble in Paradise (audio versions), p. 1712; August 19, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Family Honor, p. 1988; February 15, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Hugger Mugger, p. 1052; August, 2000, Wes Lukowsky, review of Perish Twice, p. 2075; February 15, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Potshot, p. 1085; March 15, 2001, Wes Lukowsky, review of Gunman's Rhapsody, p. 1333; January 1, 2002, Bill Ott, review of Widow's Walk, p. 776; July, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of Shrink Rap, p. 1798; January 1, 2003, review of Back Story, p. 807.

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People, May 7, 1984; July 22, 1996, p. 27; September 20, 1999, p. 57; April 1, 2002, Samantha Miller, review of Widow's Walk, p. 43.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), October 14, 2001, Michele Ross, review of Potshot, p. J13.

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Parker, Robert B. 1932–

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