Robert B. Parker was heir to the tradition of the hard-boiled detective most notably embodied in Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Parker’s Spenser is principled and honorable but not a loner like Chandler’s Marlowe. Spenser has a monogamous relationship with an intelligent and liberated woman, Susan Silverman, and he is ably assisted by Hawk, a formidable African American who is less principled but just as honorable as Spenser. In 1976 Parker received the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Promised Land (1976). In 1995, Parker and John Lutz jointly received the Eye, a lifetime achievement award from the Private Eye Writers of America. In 2002 Parker was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. In 2006 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention.
In addition to his detective series, Parker wrote three mainstream novels, Wilderness (1979), Love and Glory (1983), and All Our Yesterdays (1994). Critics have described them as thoughtful and well written but flawed, and they have not achieved the popularity of his detective series. Parker’s Spenser series has been optioned for television and films, and he acted as a consultant for the television series Spenser for Hire (1985-1988). In 2005-2007, several novels in the Jesse Stone series were turned into television films starring Tom Selleck. Parker’s female detective, Sunny Randall, was created because he was asked to write a novel that could be adapted as a film vehicle for Helen Hunt, the Academy Award-winning actress.
Binyon, T. J. Murder Will Out: The Detective in Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Classifies Parker’s Spenser as a professional amateur and views his work as moving from detective fiction to the thriller.
Geherin, David. Sons of Sam Spade: The Private-Eye Novel in the 70s—Robert B. Parker, Roger L. Simon, Andrew Bergman. New York: Ungar, 1980. Discussion of Parker as heir to Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.
James, Dean, and Elizabeth Foxwell. The Robert B. Parker Companion. New York: Berkley Books, 2005. Comprehensive work contains plot summaries, a biography of Parker, lists of characters, and information on Spenser’s Boston.
Keating, H. R. F. Writing Crime Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. British crime writer analyzes the genre and discusses Parker as heir to Chandler.
Parker, Robert B., and Anne Ponder. “What I Know About Writing Spenser Novels.” In Colloquium on Crime: Eleven Renowned Mystery Writers Discuss Their Work, edited by Robin W. Winks. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986. Revises and expands an article that appeared in The Armchair Detective in 1984. In-depth discussion of Spenser and the philosophical underpinning of his world.
Schmid, George. Profiling the American Detective: Parker’s Prose on the Coded Game of Sleuth and Rogue, and the Tradition of the Crime Story. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. An examination of Parker’s detective fiction and how it fits into the genre.
Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel. Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1985. Historical study of the detective story with comments unsympathetic to Parker.
Winks, Robin W. Modus Operandi: An Excursion into Detective Fiction. Boston: David R. Godine, 1982. Appreciative study and defense of detective fiction as literature. Describes the evolution of Parker’s Spenser. Calls attention to Mortal Stakes and Promised Land.