Sometimes I get distracted by food; but mostly all I think about is women and baseball.” – Robert B. Parker’s Spenser

Robert B. ParkerMy favorite author died on Monday, January 18, and he took with him my favorite fictional character.

I was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. My dad, though — who lives in Rhode Island now and has for more than twenty years — is from Boston. (Somerville, actually; two stops after Harvard Square on the Red Line.) Boston has always been a sort of mythic place for me because of this. My mom and sister and I moved to Florida after my parents got divorced in ’79; and all through elementary school and most of high school I’d spend a few weeks every summer (and the occasional Christmas) with my dad and his half of the family in New England. Boston — home of Harvard and BC and BU — was the birthplace of America and of my father.

And at some point in there it became the setting for what I thought was the most awesome TV show evah, Spenser: For Hire.

Spenser was played by Robert Urich (who I thought looked a lot like my dad) and he was, to put it sweetly, a badass. The only one more badass than Spenser was his cooler-than-ice, blacker-than-black, bad-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold, sometime-partner Hawk. These two cut like a dagger through the heart of the Boston underworld, solving crimes and putting away the serious bad guys, cracking jokes and skulls the whole way. Everyone I knew loved the A Team, but I thought they were a bunch of campy kooks. Spenser was my hero.

I was devastated when the show was canceled. It would be another five years before I stumbled across Spenser again. I was roaming the aisles of Goerings Bookstore between my classes one afternoon at the University of Florida when I saw a copy of Playmates, by Robert B. Parker. I started reading it right where I was standing. After about twenty minutes I realized that I should probably pay for the book and go to class, but I didn’t. I bought the book, but I clearly remember walking back to campus and skipping class. I sat next to The Rock and read the whole book that afternoon.

The next day I returned to Goerings and bought The Godwulf Manuscript, God Save the Child, and Mortal Stakes, the first three books in the Spenser series. I devoured them. I tore through them the same way I’d gone through every single thing Stephen King had written when I was in high school.

It took me a few years — I paced myself — but eventually I made it through every one of the Spenser novels. And then I waited, but not for long. Robert B. Parker was a machine; he cranked out a new book at least once each year and I read them all.

Spenser was a great cook. He had been a boxer and was deadly with his fists. He served in Korea and was an excellent shot. He lifted weights and went on runs. He loved many, many women over the years, but eventually settled down — sort of — with Susan, a leggy blond psychiatrist. He got a dog. He solved a lot of cases. He saved a lot of damsels in distress. He was exactly who I wanted to be.

Every few years I’d go back to square one and read the entire series again. They never got old. Spenser’s sarcasm and charm, his charisma and style … Man, I’d read each story as if it was the first time and I loved them just as much as I got older. So many of them were dedicated to his wife, Joan, that I felt like I knew her (and loved her), based purely on the four or five words in her honor on the first page of almost every one.

A few years ago I found Robert B. Parker’s personal website and was quite surprised to see that he was blogging. He didn’t post very many entries — how could he? He was busy writing novels! — but when he did I was always glad by how happy he seemed to be with his life.

Spenser and Hawk (and Susan) got older. Pearl the Wonder Dog died and was replaced. I always thought that Parker would wrap up the series some day. I don’t know why I thought that. I guess in retrospect it was sort of naive of me. But I always imagined Spenser retiring … or getting killed … or … something.

Now that’s not going to happen. There are still a few Spenser novels I haven’t read yet. (I’ve been really busy the last couple of years.) And I’m going to bet that there are still a few more that have yet to be published, or are sitting on a hard drive at his house; maybe there are even some unfinished ones I’ll get to read some day. But it’s not going to be the same.

I’m going to miss Spenser. A lot.

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