Robert B. Parker

The private-eye novel is the quintessential form of the American mystery story, and for the past 36 years its greatest practitioner was Robert B. Parker, who died on Jan. 18 at 77. In the genre's lineage of hard-boiled icons, the baton passed from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler to Ross Macdonald and finally to Parker, whose mononymous detective, Spenser, long ago entered the pantheon inhabited by Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. Although Parker's body of work included books featuring other protagonists, it is Spenser who will endure and whose adventures will be read in the next century.

Smart-alecky, funny,...

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