Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Robert B. Parker: A Joyful Memorial

Although some 600 people gathered at Boston University near its Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center yesterday to say goodbye to mystery author Robert B. Parker, who died on January 18, only a few tears were shed -- because the emphasis was on the joy of knowing this author and on the pleasure of his books. The memorial gathering was instigated by Kate Mattes of Kate's Mystery Books, Parker's "hometown bookseller" and a long-time promoter of his mysteries. At the podium were the archivist of Parker's materials Vita Paladino; mystery authors Sue Grafton and Dennis Lehane; critic and friend Calvin Trillin; Parker's publisher and editor; and Parker's wife Joan and their sons David and Daniel.

Paladino credited Parker's wife Joan with encouraging her husband to do his doctoral thesis at Boston University, which in turn meant Parker taught there for two and a half years and managed to fit time for writing his first book into his schedule. The thesis "examined the classic detective fiction of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett," said the archivist. It was on display in the lobby (our photos show the glassed-in samples from the archive).

Sue Grafton spoke warmly of enjoying time with both Robert B. and Joan Parker. Dennis Lehane asserted that Parker moved American crime fiction into the 20th century, saying, "There is American crime fiction before Parker, and there is American cdrime fiction after Parker. It is true: He laid a stake in the ground, and after that, you always had to look back and see him standing there."

Calvin Trillin raised a chuckle as he recalled Parker's answer to why he wouldn't join the Mystery Writers of America: "The last organization I joined sent me to Korea." He added, "Like most mystery writers of the first rank, he had a great sense of place. When you read the Spenser books, you breathe in Boston."

Putnam president Ivan Held rose to the challenge to say where Parker resides in the publishing pantheon: "I thought about this and decided that he resides at the intersection of Old School and New School." He spoke of the fierce pace of writing that Parker established, too; in later years, Parker's schedule with G. P. Putnam's Sons meant a Jesse Stone book released each February, a Western in June, and a Spenser book in the fall. Chris Pepe, Parker's editor at Putnam, said the author only began to slow his public appearances after age 74.

Son David Parker's remarks were a shorter version of the eulogy he gave earlier this year, and the full text can be found at the Washington Post website. His brother Dan offered a moving rendition of Robert B. Parker's favorite baseball song, "What You'd Call a Dream," and added the final verse of "Danny Boy" in farewell. Joan Parker rose and said, "Can I just say, are my kids great, or what?" And of course she won applause for that, and a warm standing ovation when she completed her own remarks about the 53-year marriage that she and "Bob" enjoyed.

Also on hand to pay tribute to Parker's memory were actor/director Ed Harris, who directed the film Appaloosa made from one of Parker's Westerns; and Parker's long-time agent Helen Brann (in our photo, you see the back of her head as she listens to Dennis Lehane).

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