Spenser creator Robert B. Parker

This week I’m mourning the loss of a friend. This friend isn’t someone I met for coffee, remembered on his birthday or friended on Facebook. We didn’t exchange Christmas cards. I didn’t call him to share my joys and frustrations. We didn’t take any journalism classes together.

I’m grieving the loss of a man I’ve never met, but he’s been in my home countless times. I will miss knowing — that while I’m at my keyboard writing — he’s somewhere across the country busy folding words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters and turning those chapters into best-selling novels.

Robert B. Parker died last Monday in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77. The cause — a heart attack. I just finished reading one of his earlier works, Mortal Stakes, when I opened an e-mail from my sister asking me if I’d heard about his passing. She knew how much I enjoyed his books. Somehow I had missed the notice in the newspapers.

The prolific writer of more than 50 novels is best known (and in my case, best loved) for his Spenser novels: a series of nearly 40 books about a wisecracking ex-boxer turned Boston private eye. I lost sleep many nights wanting to find out how this PI would expose the bad guy, set the world right and still find time to cook for his beloved Susan Silverman. I loved his dog, Pearl, and I knew Spenser’s trusted friend Hawk would come to his aid in a moment’s notice. Mostly though, I loved the laugh-out-loud, self-effacing personality of Spenser, who Parker never gave a first name.

Parker’s mastery of short chapters wove vivid imagery with crisp dialogue. His books were so inviting that I  kept a photocopied check-off list of his titles in my purse to help as I scoured booksellers and used bookstores hunting for them.

Parker began writing Spenser novels in 1971 while teaching at Northeastern University in Boston. His first one, The Godwulf Manuscript, was published in 1974, the year I graduated from high school. It opens with a sentence that immediately catches your attention and makes you want to read more: “The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.” And with that, Parker’s career — spanning some 36 years — was off and running.

In addition to the Spenser books, he’s written two other series-based novels, both with memorable central characters: the first is a female private investigator Sunny Randall and the other, a small town police chief, Jesse Stone. He’s also published numerous non-series novels.

Here’s the good news. The authors we love never really die. They live on through the pages of their books. I can still invite Robert B. Parker into my home any time I like. I can’t wait to read his next two books. Split Image, the ninth in the police chief Jesse Stone series, will be in bookstores on Feb. 23. And, for a change of pace, a Parker western, Blue-Eyed Devil, follows in May.

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