A year ago yesterday, Robert B. Parker died at his desk while writing the then-latest Spenser detective novel.
We lost a truly popular novelist who used the mystery format to present serious ideas to readers. Most of the time we didn't realize that we were engaged in significant thinking; we were too busy helping Spenser and his cohorts - Susan, Hawk, Vinny, Lt. Quirk, Sgt. Beldon - solve his largely Boston-based mysteries. When you finished the chapter, however, you knew that Parker had slyly managed to make you think harder than expected.
Parker had a nifty eye for popular culture and inserted many references into his books. His characters understood the iconic nature of automobiles. Parker always seemed to choose the right car for the right character. He wasn't a car guy per se - most people aren't - but he knew that readers would know more about a character if he identified the character's ride.
His main characters, whether Spenser, Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall [the latter two the central figures in other series of Parker mysteries], changed cars over the decades in response to societal impressions of automobiles. Spenser would move from a tattered-top '70's Chevy convertible to a leaky MGB to a Jeep Cherokee [click here for photos of Spenser's cars].
I miss Parker's fresh wit, crackling dialogue and philosophical insights; I'm still looking for the mystery writer to replace his talents for me.