Robert B.Parker R.I.P.

I heard the news this morning from Ali Karim and Sarah Weinman that Robert B. Parker, creator of Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Virgil Cole, had died “just sitting at his desk at home” at age 77. Having said many times he would continue writing novels until a) he died, or b) no one bought them, I think this is just how he’d want to go.

More than anything else, ABC’s “Spenser: For Hire” (1985-88) left me with Avery Brooks’ indelible impression of Hawk, and five years after the show was canceled, I discovered Parker’s books, which hooked me on P.I. fiction.

Around this time, Robert Urich and Avery Brooks returned as Spenser and Hawk in four Lifetime TV movies (1993-95: Ceremony, Pale Kings and Princes, A Savage Place, and The Judas Goat) which were co-written by Parker and his wife Joan.

From 1999 to 2001, A&E aired movies starring Joe Mantegna and Marcia Gay Harden as Spenser and Susan Silverman. These were scripted by Parker, who took the opportunity to disavow the Lifetime movies, but I was less than thrilled with the results (Small Vices, Thin Air, Walking Shadow).

While the A&E Spensers were in the news, so was Helen Hunt’s request that Parker create a character for her to play in theatrical features. The character was first-person female P.I. Sunny Randall. The movies never came to fruition, but Sunny starred in six books of her own (Family Honor, Perish Twice, Shrink Rap, Melancholy Baby, Blue Screen, Spare Change) as well as recurring in the Jesse Stone books.

Also of less renown were Avery Brooks’ short-lived 1989 spinoff “A Man Called Hawk”, an episode of “B.L. Stryker” guest-starring Neil Patrick Harris, and the 1998 HBO movie Poodle Springs, adapted by Tom Stoppard from Parker’s completion of Raymond Chandler’s last Philip Marlowe novel, and starring James Caan as an aging Marlowe.

Parker co-wrote the teleplay for the popular TNT Western Monte Walsh (2003), starring Tom Selleck, an early indication of how well Selleck would play Parker’s hard-drinking police chief Jesse Stone, though he was much older than Parker’s description.

Not scripted by Parker, the Stone CBS TV movies (2005-present: Stone Cold, Night Passage, Death in Paradise, Sea Change, Thin Ice) and Ed Harris’s Appaloosa (2008) nonetheless capture the distinct rhythm of Parker’s dialogue. I’m optimistic that even though he has passed, his legacy will live on.