Robert B. Parker

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Robert B. Parker
File:Robert B. Parker at Manchester Library.jpg
photo from Manchester Library
Born Robert Brown Parker
(1932-09-17)September 17, 1932
Springfield, Massachusetts,
United States
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.[1]
Cambridge, Massachusetts,
United States
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Period 1974–2010
Genre Detective fiction, Western fiction
Spouse Joan Hall Parker (1956 –2010)[2]
Children 2 sons

Robert Brown Parker (September 17, 1932 – January 18, 2010) was an American crime writer. His most famous works were the 40 novels written about the private detective Spenser. ABC television network developed the television series Spenser: For Hire based on the character in the mid-1980s; a series of TV movies based on the character were also produced. His works incorporate encyclopedic knowledge of the Boston metropolitan area.[3] The Spenser novels have been cited by critics and bestselling authors such as Robert Crais, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane[4] as not only influencing their own work but reviving and changing the detective genre.[5] Parker also wrote 2 other series based on an individual character. He wrote 9 novels based on the character Jesse Stone and 6 novels based on the character Sunny Randall.

Early life

Parker was born in Springfield, Massachusetts.[6] In 1956 Parker married Joan H. Parker, whom he claimed to have met as a toddler at a birthday party.[7] They spent their childhoods in the same neighborhood.[8]

After earning a BA degree from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, Parker served as a soldier in the US Army Infantry in Korea. In 1957, he earned his Master's degree in English literature from Boston University and then worked in advertising and technical writing until 1962.[6] Parker received a PhD in English literature from Boston University in 1971.[9] His dissertation, titled "The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality," discussed the exploits of fictional private-eye heroes created by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald.[6]


Parker wrote his first novel[9] in 1971 while at Northeastern University. He became a full professor in 1976, and turned to full-time writing in 1979 with five Spenser novels to his credit.[6]

Parker's popular Spenser novels are known for his characters of varied races and religions. According to critic Christina Nunez, Parker's "inclusion of [characters of] other races and sexual persuasions" lends his writings a "more modern feel".[10] For example, the Spenser series characters include Hawk and Chollo, African-American and Mexican-American, respectively, as well as Spenser's Jewish girlfriend, Susan, various Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese, a gay cop, Lee Farrell, and even a gay mob boss, Gino Fish.[11] The homosexuality of both his sons gives his writing "[a] sensibility," Ms. Nunez feels, "[which] strengthens Parker's sensibility [toward gays]." In 1985 Spenser was made into a successful television series, Spenser for Hire which starred Robert Urich, Avery Brooks and Barbara Stock.

Parker created female detective Sunny Randall at the request of actress Helen Hunt, who wanted him to write a part for her to play. He wrote the first book, and the film version was planned for 2000,[6] but never materialized.[9] However, his publisher liked the character and asked him to continue with the series.[9]

Another figure created by Parker is Jesse Stone, a troubled former LAPD detective, who starts a new career as a police chief in a small New England town. Between 1997 and 2010, he wrote nine novels featuring Jesse Stone, four of which have been adapted as a series of TV movies by CBS starring Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone, beginning from the fifth movie with original stories.

Aside from crime writing, Parker also produced several Western novels, including Appaloosa,[12] and children's books. Although Parker's work has not been the topic of much literary criticism, his Westerns have received critical attention. Chris Dacus, who has written on other authors like Cormac McCarthy, has written of the intellectual depth and importance of Parker's Westerns in The Stoic Western Hero: Robert B. Parker's Westerns.[13] In 1994 Parker collaborated with Japanese photographer Kasho Kumagai on a coffee table book called Spenser's Boston, exploring the city through Spenser's "eyes" via high quality, 4-color photos. In addition to Parker's introduction, excerpts from several of the Spenser novels were included.[14]

Parker and his wife created an independent film company called Pearl Productions, based in Boston. It is named after their German short-haired pointer, Pearl.[9]

Personal life

Parker and his wife had two sons, David and Daniel. Originally, the character of Spenser was to have been called "David," but Parker didn't want to appear to favor one of his sons over the other. Parker therefore omitted Spenser's first name entirely, and, to this day, the first name of the fictional Spenser remains unknown.

Parker and his wife Joan separated at one point but then came to an unusual arrangement. They lived in a three-story Victorian house just outside of Harvard Square; she lived on one and he on another, and they shared the middle floor. their Victorian house, just outside of Harvard Square, and he on another, and they shared the others. This living arrangement is mirrored in Spenser's private life: his girlfriend, Susan, had an aversion to marriage and living together full-time. Living separately suited them both, although they were fully committed to each other. Explaining the arrangement in an interview on CBS "Sunday Morning", Parker said, "I want to make love to my wife for the rest of my life, but I never want to sleep with her again."

He had a great fondness for dogs, including German Pointers. Dogs were included in his Spenser stories, aging along with the character and appearing in the ongoing series of novels. The dogs were always named Pearl.[15]


Parker received three nominations and two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. He received the first award, the "Best Novel Award" in 1977, for the fourth novel in the Spenser series, Promised Land.[16] In 1983 he received the Maltese Falcon Award, Japan, for Early Autumn. In 1990 he shared, with wife Joan, a nomination for "Best Television Episode" for the TV series B.L. Stryker; however, the award went to David J. Burke and Alfonse Ruggiero Jr. for Wiseguy.

In 2002 he received the Grand Master Award Edgar for his collective oeuvre.[17]

In 2008 he was awarded the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award.


Parker was 77 when he died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts on January 18, 2010; discovered at his desk by his wife Joan, he had been working on a novel.[1][18][19]

Written by Ace Atkins, the Spenser series continued following Parker's death. The Boston Globe wrote that while some people might have "viewed the move as unseemly, those people didn’t know Robert B. Parker, a man who, when asked how his books would be viewed in 50 years, replied: “Don’t know, don’t care.” He was proud of his work, but he mainly saw writing as a means of providing a comfortable life for his family."[15]



Title Year ISBN Series Notes
The Godwulf Manuscript 1973 0-395-18011-2 Spenser 01
God Save the Child 1974 0-395-19955-7 Spenser 02
Mortal Stakes 1975 0-395-21969-8 Spenser 03
Promised Land 1976 0-395-24771-3 Spenser 04 Edgar Award, Best Novel
The Judas Goat 1978 0-395-26682-3 Spenser 05
Wilderness 1979 0-385-29108-6
Looking for Rachel Wallace 1980 0-385-28558-2 Spenser 06
Early Autumn 1980 0-385-28242-7 Spenser 07 1983 Maltese Falcon Award
A Savage Place 1981 0-385-28951-0 Spenser 08
Ceremony 1982 0-385-28127-7 Spenser 09
The Widening Gyre 1983 0-385-29220-1 Spenser 10
Love and Glory 1983 0-385-29261-9 Set at Taft University
Valediction 1984 0-385-29330-5 Spenser 11
A Catskill Eagle 1985 0-385-29385-2 Spenser 12
Taming a Sea-Horse 1986 0-385-29461-1 Spenser 13
Pale Kings and Princes 1987 0-385-29538-3 Spenser 14
Crimson Joy 1988 0-385-29668-1 Spenser 15
Playmates 1989 0-399-13463-8 Spenser 16 Set at Taft University
Poodle Springs 1989 0-399-13482-4 Philip Marlowe Completing the 1958 Raymond Chandler novel
Stardust 1990 0-399-13537-5 Spenser 17
Pastime 1991 0-399-13630-4 Spenser 18
Perchance to Dream 1991 0-399-13580-4 Philip Marlowe Sequel to The Big Sleep
Double Deuce 1992 0-399-13754-8 Spenser 19
Paper Doll 1993 0-399-13818-8 Spenser 20
Walking Shadow 1994 0-399-13961-3 Spenser 21
All Our Yesterdays 1994 0-385-30437-4
Thin Air 1995 0-399-14063-8 Spenser 22
Chance 1996 0-399-14688-1 Spenser 23
Small Vices 1997 0-399-14547-8 Spenser 24
Night Passage 1997 0-399-14304-1 Jesse Stone 1
Trouble in Paradise 1998 0-399-14433-1 Jesse Stone 2
Sudden Mischief 1998 0-399-14696-2 Spenser 25
Hush Money 1999 0-399-14458-7 Spenser 26
Family Honor 1999 0-399-14566-4 Sunny Randall 1
Perish Twice 2000 0-399-14668-7 Sunny Randall 2
Hugger Mugger 2000 0-399-14587-7 Spenser 27
Gunman's Rhapsody 2001 0-399-14762-4 Wyatt Earp in 1879
Death in Paradise 2001 0-399-14779-9 Jesse Stone 3
Potshot 2001 0-399-14710-1 Spenser 28
Widow's Walk 2002 0-399-14845-0 Spenser 29
Shrink Rap 2002 0-399-14930-9 Sunny Randall 3
Back Story 2003 0-399-14977-5 Spenser 30 Includes Jesse Stone
Stone Cold 2003 0-399-15087-0 Jesse Stone 4
Bad Business 2004 0-399-15145-1 Spenser 31
Melancholy Baby 2004 0-399-15218-0 Sunny Randall 4
Double Play 2004 0-399-15188-5
Cold Service 2005 0-399-15240-7 Spenser 32
Appaloosa 2005 0-399-15277-6 Cole & Hitch
School Days 2005 0-399-15323-3 Spenser 33
Hundred-Dollar Baby 2006 0-399-15376-4 Spenser 34 Also published as Dream Girl
Sea Change 2006 0-399-15267-9 Jesse Stone 5
Blue Screen 2006 0-399-15351-9 Sunny Randall 5 Includes Jesse Stone
High Profile 2007 0-399-15404-3 Jesse Stone 6 Includes Sunny Randall
Spare Change 2007 0-399-15425-6 Sunny Randall 6
Now and Then 2007 0-399-15441-8 Spenser 35
Edenville Owls 2007 0-399-24656-8
Stranger In Paradise 2008 0-399-15460-4 Jesse Stone 7
The Boxer and the Spy 2008 0-399-24775-0
Rough Weather 2008 0-399-15519-8 Spenser 36
Resolution 2008 0-399-15504-X Cole & Hitch
Brimstone 2009 0-399-15571-6 Cole & Hitch
Chasing the Bear 2009 0-399-24776-9 Spenser 37 "Young Spenser"
Night and Day 2009 0-399-15541-4 Jesse Stone 8 Includes Sunny Randall
The Professional 2009 0-399-15594-5 Spenser 38
Split Image 2010 0-399-15623-2 Jesse Stone 9 Includes Sunny Randall
Blue-Eyed Devil 2010 0-399-15648-8 Cole & Hitch
Painted Ladies 2010 0-399-15685-2 Spenser 39
Sixkill 2011 0-399-15726-3 Spenser 40 Published posthumously

In April 2011, the Parker Estate—his widow Joan, and sons Dan and David—decided together with Parker's publishers to continue two series of his books.[20][21]

In August 2012 it was announced that Parker's Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch series would be continued by actor and screenwriter Robert Knott.[23]

Silent Night, a Spenser manuscript unfinished at the time of his death, was completed by Parker’s longtime literary agent, Helen Brann, and was published in November 2013.


Short fiction

"Surrogate"' (1991)" A short story published in the crime anthology New Crimes 3 ISBN 0-88184-737-2


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  2. See Discussion Page
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  4. "His Spenser Novels Saved Detective Fiction" by Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal [1]
  5. "Robert B. Parker left a mark on the detective novel" by Sarah Weinman, Los Angeles Times [2]
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Robert B. Parker biography from
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  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Author Profile: Robert B. Parker from
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  11. See nearly the entire Spenser series for Hawk, whose prominence in the plots increases with each book; for Chollo, Stardust, Pot Shot, and Now and Then; Cold Service features Ukrainian and Russian mobsters; and Walking Shadow, which explores Chinese tongs and includes a Chinese-American translator named Mei Ling who has a relationship with Hawk; see Chance for Gino Fish, who also crosses over into the first Jesse Stone novel.
  12. This was adapted to film in 2008 by Ed Harris, starring Harris (who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay), Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Irons
  13. Dacus, Chris. The Stoic Western Hero: Robert B. Parker's Westerns. CDI: 2011.
  14. The Tennessean, 8 March 2009, Arts & Entertainment, p. 11
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  16. "Edgars" database search for "Grand Master" award at the Mystery Writers of America's website . Retrieved February 2009.
  17. database [3]. Retrieved February 2009.
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External links