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Sure, Spenser's for hire, but not Robert B. Parker

Robert B. Parker Google the key words "Boston private eye" and the first name that pops up is Spenser. For three decades, he's been the man in Beantown the same way Cheers has been its bar and the Red Sox have been its team.

Spenser creator Robert B. Parker fashioned his pugilistic alter ego as a modern East Coast alternative to the archetypal sullen California gumshoe best characterized by Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlow and Dashiell Hammett's Mike Hammer. Unlike those brooding PIs, Spenser not only has a life, but makes a point of enjoying it; he jogs, he cooks, he's capable of sustained romantic relationships. And he doesn't kill without remorse; he leaves that to his buddy Hawk, a Mob enforcer who is the antithesis to Spenser's sensitive side.

Parker was well prepared to join the PI majors; in 1971, after spending most of the '60s as a college English professor, he earned his doctoral degree from Boston University with a thesis on Chandler, Marlow and Ross Macdonald. Two years later, Spenser debuted in "The Godwulf Manuscript." Seven years later, Parker quit his teaching post at Northeastern University to write full time.

Spenser became a familiar figure on the small screen; Robert Ulrich starred in "Spenser for Hire" and several made-for-TV movies, Joe Mantegna took over the role for the recent Spenser series on A&E written by Parker, who loathes screenwriting but is fiercely protective of his big guy.

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At 71, Parker is busier than ever. He recently published his 31st Spenser mystery, "Bad Business," about corporate corruption on an Enron scale. He also has two others series under way featuring Jesse Stone, a washed-out California detective starting over as the police chief of a small Massachusetts town, and Sunny Randall, a Boston-based female private eye character created specifically for Helen Hunt.In 2002, with more than 40 books on the shelf, Parker received the Grand Master designation from the Mystery Writers of America. Today, he writes what he wants, though Spenser, of course, is always for hire.

Bankrate: It hardly seems possible that your first Spenser novel was published 30 years ago. You were teaching then at Northeastern University in Boston. How did your academic colleagues respond to your fiction debut back then? Was it considered imprudent (or worse) to work in the mystery genre? Did you have a plan B if you had not been published?

Parker: My colleagues had long since decided I was not appropriately academic. But, since I was a tenured professor, it wasn't of much concern what they thought. Once I was published, several others attempted a novel. Most failed. I had no plan B. Hell, I didn't even have a plan A, I was just feeling my way along. Still am.

Bankrate: When did you know you had hit "the big time" where you had to count the zeros on the paycheck or pinch yourself? Were you prepared to handle sudden good fortune, i.e., with some sort of investment strategy? What has been your general approach to managing your money?

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: April 12, 2004
Read more stories by Jay  MacDonald
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