Robert B. Parker Essay - Critical Essays


Robert B. Parker was the acknowledged literary heir to Raymond Chandler. In 1988 he was asked by the Chandler estate to complete the thirty-page manuscript that Chandler was working on at the time of his death. The resulting Poodle Springs (1989) carried both authors’ names. Parker also wrote a sequel to Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939), which he called Perchance to Dream: Robert B. Parker’s Sequel to Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” (1991). Although Parker’s Spenser remained true to the conventions of the American hard-boiled detective as established by Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross MacDonald, Parker differs from his predecessors in having combined the detective novel and the love story. Spenser is in love with Susan Silverman, a psychologist with a doctorate from Harvard. Spenser and Susan are not married and do not live together, but they have a monogamous relationship. Parker has also changed the locale from Chandler’s Los Angeles to Boston. His Boston is so fully realized that he and one of his fans, Kasho Kumagai, compiled a book entitled Spenser’s Boston (1994).

With unerring skill, Parker wrote in first-person narrative interlaced with dialogue. The reader sees everything through Spenser’s eyes; his wit enlivens every conversation. Parker’s work is highly literate. Spenser, his detective’s name, is a reference to Edmund Spenser, regarded by his contemporaries as the heir to Geoffrey Chaucer and the leading sixteenth century nondramatic English poet. The selection of name is deliberate. Chandler initially called his hero Malory after the English poet Sir Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte d’Arthur (1485). Parker’s Spenser is well aware that his literary namesake wrote The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596) and just as aware that few of the police officers and mobsters who populate his world have heard of the English poet. Nevertheless, he frequently quips “Spenser, spelled with an ’s,’ like the English poet.” Each book of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene focuses on a knight who engages in a quest relating to a particular virtue: holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice, and courtesy. Like these literary knights, Parker’s Spenser is concerned with virtue. He lives by a code that...

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