The private-eye novel is the quintessential form of the American mystery story, and for the past 36 years its greatest practitioner was Robert B. Parker, who died on Jan. 18 at 77. In the genre's lineage of hard-boiled icons, the baton passed from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler to Ross Macdonald and finally to Parker, whose mononymous detective, Spenser, long ago entered the pantheon inhabited by Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. Although Parker's body of work included books featuring other protagonists, it is Spenser who will endure and whose adventures will be read in the next century.
Smart-alecky, funny, fearless, loyal and honorable, Spenser was so like his creator that the words poured out of Parker's fertile brain at an astounding rate. Beginning with The Godwulf Manuscript in 1974, Parker wrote prolifically; in recent years he published at least three books annually but penned more, an output that ensures avid readers will have new material to devour. Parker once said that while he tried to write slower, the books didn't get any better. He thought and spoke the way he wrote; his voice was Spenser's, and it was impossible not to be entertained by both of them.
Despite being a writer of tough-guy books, Parker was as mushy as a Frank Capra movie when he spoke of his wife Joan, the great love of his life. The pair met when they were 3, came to know each other well in college and were married for 54 years. He spoke of her as if still in the first thrall of romance, and dedicated to her almost every one of his 60-plus books. Once, during a rough patch, they separated for a short while. He was miserable. "I learned that I could live without Joan," he told me, "but I didn't want to."
Penzler is the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City