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Robert B. Parker

CHITOSE SUZUKI

Robert B. Parker, the blunt and beloved crime novelist who helped revive the hardboiled genre and branded a tough guy of his own through his "Spenser" series, has died. He was 77.

An ambulance was sent to Parker's home in Cambridge on Monday morning for reports of a sudden death, said Alexa Manocchio, spokeswoman for the Cambridge police department. The death was of natural causes and was not considered suspicious, Manocchio said.

A publicist for Parker's publisher, Penguin Group (USA), confirmed the death but had no further details.

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Prolific to the end, Parker wrote more than 50 novels, including 37 featuring Boston private eye Spenser. The character's first name was a mystery and his last name emphatically spelled with an "s" in the middle, not a "c." He was the basis for the 1980s TV series Spenser: For Hire, starring Robert Urich.

A native of Springfield, Mass., Parker openly worshipped Raymond Chandler and other classic crime writers and helped bring back their cool, clipped style in such early "Spenser" novels as The Godwulf Manuscript and God Save the Child. Within a few years, in Looking for Rachel Wallace and Early Autumn, he was acclaimed as a master in his own right.

"Hardboiled detective fiction was essentially dead in the early '70s. It was considered almost a museum thing," said Ace Atkins, author of Devil's Garden, Wicked City and several other novels. "When Parker brought out Spenser, it reinvigorated the genre. For me and countless others, we owe for him and reinventing Chandler's work and bringing it to the modern age. I wouldn't have a job now without Robert Parker."

Robert Crais, known for his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels, said Parker "opened the doors for everyone who came after."

"For a long time, the American detective genre was defined by the big three: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. I would say Robert Parker is the fourth," Crais said.

Parker also was known for his Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone series. His other books included a novel inspired by the life of Jackie Robinson, Double Play; the Westerns Appaloosa, Resolution and Brimstone; and Perchance to Dream, a sequel to Chandler's "The Big Sleep."

Parker won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America and a Grand Master Edgar in 2002 for lifetime achievement. A new Jesse Stone novel, Split Image, is scheduled to come out next month, and several other books, including some Spenser novels, are "in the pipeline," according to Chris Pepe, his editor at G.P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group.

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More than 4 million copies of Parker's books have sold worldwide, Brann, his agent, said.

In a 1996 interview with The Associated Press, Parker noted several similarities between himself and Spenser. They both appreciated good food; Spenser dined at some of Parker's favorite restaurants. Both liked baseball and jazz. Both were veterans of the Korean War. Both could throw a punch - or least had the desire.

"He does a great many things I don't believe," Parker said. "I don't know if he's more violent that I am. But he's more willing to enact it than I am. Let's just say we're not dissimilar."

Parker said he liked to write 10 pages a day, finish a book without revision and then turn over the manuscript to his wife. He only learned how the story would turn out by writing it, making the novel a kind of parallel adventure for author and character.

A native of Springfield, Mass., Parker studied as an undergraduate at Colby College and received a Ph.D. in English from Boston University, where his dissertation was on Hammett and Chandler, whom he made no secret of imitating. He was teaching at Northeastern University when he created Spenser, observing later that he was inspired in part because Chandler was dead and he missed his famous detective, Philip Marlowe.

Admirers credit Parker with not only honouring the hardboiled style, but also with updating it. Unlike Marlowe and other classic characters, Spenser was not a confirmed loner, but in a solid relationship. Parker's stories also included blacks, Latinos and gays.

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"He opened the door to women as readers of hardboiled detective fiction," Crais said. "He set the stage and made a ready-made audience for authors like Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky."

Brann said that a private ceremony will take place this week, and that a public memorial is planned for mid-February in Boston.

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