Not only did I enjoy his stories, which were never intended to be great literature, only a good romp, I learned a great deal about how to write. As did many other writers.
Here is a great article about Parker that includes tributes from Dennis Lehane and Robert Crais, and a wonderful quote from Harlan Coben taken from a 2007 interview with the Atlantic Monthly. “When it comes to detective novels, 90% of us admit he’s an influence, and the rest of us lie about it.”
Early on in my career, an editor suggested I read Parker’s novels to get a sense of concise writing and the best dialogue for the mystery genre. This was at a time when I thought it would be really clever to find alternatives to the dialog attributive “said.”
My editor pointed out that all my attempts to be clever only emphasized the attributive and took away from the dialog. Parker, she pointed out, rarely used an attributive and when he did 90 percent of the time it was “said.” Not “exclaimed” “growled” “muttered” “interjected” or any of the other words some of us used to consider clever.
Parker also rarely used an adverb to modify the attributive, putting the essence of how the line was delivered into the actual line. If a character was angry, the dialog reflected the anger. My editor challenged me to do the same, and there are times I give myself a refresher course and read another Parker novel.
We who have long respected and enjoyed his work will miss him terribly. But a little part of me is happy that he died at his computer doing what he loved. Not a bad way to go.
Writers— were you influenced by Parker’s writing?
photo credit: Robert B Parker in in 2006. Photograph: Chitose Suzuki/AP