Robert B. Parker (link to New York Times’ obituary) died just over a year ago, on January 18, 2010, at the age of 77. He created my favorite “private eye” of all time, “Spenser,” (“spelled like the poet”), and to say that I have been in mourning since hearing the news might be overstating things just a bit, but I certainly have been feeling the loss. Dr. Parker wrote the first of his 39 Spenser novels in 1973, “The Godwulf Manuscript,” I picked it up the following year, by chance, when it came out in paperback, and I was hooked – reeled in, landed, gutted and fileted! For many authors, having thirty-nine bestsellers would be enough of an accomplishment, but Parker was a great deal more prolific: He also created two other Detectives and/or P.I.’s – Jesse Stone, (nine books), and Sunny Randall, (six books). He wrote four western novels centered around Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, and ten other books, of varying subjects, fiction and non-fiction – some for young adults. He also was the author selected to complete Raymond Chandler’s unfinished manuscript, “Poodle Springs.” All of his books became bestsellers.
I have always loved the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Every time I read (and re-read) a Spenser novel, I am transported to that wonderful city, and I walk and drive the streets right along with him and the wonderful and unforgettable characters that were part of Spenser’s life: Hawk – his closest friend; Susan Silverman – his (eventual) one and only; Police Captain Martin Quirk, Detective Frank Belson, State Police Captain Healy – and so many more. Spenser is erudite, well-read, witty and amusing (especially to himself, as he admits), a wonderful cook; he is a good man, in fact, among fictional Private Investigators, he is the quintessential all-around good guy, who lives and works unswervingly according to his own just and moral code. He does what he feels he must, in the cause of justice, and willingly accepts the consequences of his behavior.
In the past 37 years that I have been reading the books of Robert B. Parker, it had completely escaped my notice, until I read his obituary last year, that he was a highly educated and distinguished man of letters, having earned his B.A. from Colby College, and then his M.A. and Ph.D. from Boston University in literature. He later taught literature at both Boston University and Northeastern University. Wish I had known. I likely would have been sitting in the front row of any/all of his classes.
When “Painted Ladies” came out the Spring of 2010, I rushed to purchase it and read it, as I thought at the time that it would be the last of the Spenser novels. Interestingly enough, however, I didn’t, I couldn’t read it right away. I had a hard time bringing myself to open and then close the book on such a beloved character. When I finally steeled myself and read it – in one sitting – as I have read and completed all the Spenser books – I was happy to note that Mr. Parker had completed one more Spenser tale before his death. This brings me to the reason I am writing about Dr. Parker now – more than a year after his death. That final novel, (published in March of this year). “Sixkill,” I read and finished this past Sunday afternoon. (I have heard that some unfinished manuscripts might be completed by another author, continuing the series. They might be good, they could even be well done. They will never be, however, the true Spenser. Dr. Parker was Spenser.) On and off, over the past four days, I have been shedding tears. It is hard to imagine when spring rolls around each year that there will not be another bowl of popcorn to consume, and satisfy my appetite for another year. I have always referred to the Spenser books as “popcorn,” because in all reality they are not great literature, they do not demand a great deal of the reader – other than to enjoy – but they are always satisfying and engaging, and able to transport the reader away from wherever they may be at the moment, and the books can easily be read, as I have, in one sitting. The books can also be re-read, as I have, many times. I have found myself doing just that, starting with the first of his books, and then reading on through, in order, the rest of them. I’ve never been bored. (BTW, should you decide to read the Spenser books, it is not necessary to read them in order, but I suggest it, as it introduces you to the characters that develop and grow through the years.)
While I have read all of the Spenser novels, I have read some, but not all, of Parker’s other books. That is not to say that they do not all have their appeal; it’s just that I am a Spenser addict. I have a feeling that I will be catching up on Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall and the rest, in the coming months, to help me through the withdrawal period.
At the beginning of “Sixkill,” I came upon the following two lines that captured my attention and imagination:
“I could hear a couple of mourning doves in Susan’s backyard. They sounded like contentment.”
I don’t believe that I will ever listen to a mourning dove again without thinking about that second sentence. I will always be reminded now of Robert B. Parker, of Spenser, and Susan, and Hawk – all the assorted characters that became a part of my life over the past 37 years. And now, instead of mourning, I will listen to the gentle “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo” and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for the life of a wonderful and gifted author, and release a sigh of contentment. I close this post with a poem written in honor and memory of Dr. Robert B. Parker. He will always be remembered by me as a man whose life was blessed, and who blessed the lives of millions of others, with the abundance of enough. . .
The Mourning Doves
©2011 Paula Tohline Calhoun
The first call of birds I hear
each morning as I awake
is the soft, gentle sound of the
Mourning doves, cooing at day-break.
On looking out my window
I see them, on the roof
some, like sentries, pacing,
others perching, still, aloof.
Their feathers shimmer, pink and gray,
reflecting dawn’s first light.
Then suddenly, in unison
wings whistling, they take flight.
And, following some distant call
that they alone can hear,
they take their leave, to feed and play
by a distant stream or weir.
Then at the appointed hour,
in the gloaming of the day
singing softly of contentment
in their simple, soulful way –
they make their way back home to me,
gently fold their wings.
And hearing their song of peace again,
in gratitude, my own heart sings.