When Robert B. Parker died suddenly on Jan. 18, 2010, the best-selling author passed away at his desk, working on a novel.
Parker was 77 and his career spanned more than 45 novels, including his popular series about the Boston private investigator Spenser (39 novels since 1974) and Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone (nine novels since 1997).
Parker had often been called the dean of American crime fiction. In 2002, he was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Parker's legacy of novels will continue thanks to a deal struck by the Robert B. Parker Estate and his long-time publisher G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Crime fiction novelist Ace Atkins, top, will continue the Spenser series, with the first novel to be published in the Spring 2012.
Michael Brandman, producer and screenwriter of the CBS-TV “Jesse Stone” movies, will take over the Jesse Stone novels, with the first due out in September 2011.
Having a novelist continue the series of a deceased author isn't exactly new. The characters and plots established in the novels of the late Robert Ludlum and the late Lawrence Sanders have continued under new authors.
But the quality of those legacy novels has been mixed.
But in this case, I think the two authors will bring a fresh perspective to Spenser and Stone.
Brandman has shown a real affinity for Parker's work and has been a long-time collaborator of the author. A Hollywood producer and screenwriter, Brandman along with actor Tom Selleck co-wrote and produced the CBS television movies featuring Selleck as Jesse Stone. Those films include Stone Cold, Night Passage, Sea Change and Death in Paradise. Brandman also produced three adaptations of Parker’s Spenser novels for the A&E network.
Brandman’s first Jesse Stone novel will be Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues, scheduled to be published on September 13, 2011.
But I think Atkins' interpretation of Spenser will be the most exciting.
A former journalist who was a crime reporter for the Tampa Tribune, Atkins was 27 years old when his first novel was published. Crossroad Blues was the first of four novels about Nick Travers, an ex-New Orleans Saint turned blues historian at Tulane University.
But Atkins, the author of nine novels, found a real niche in his historical fiction such as White Shadow, about the 1950s murder of a Tampa mobster, Devil's Garden about the 1920s comedian Fatty Arbuckle and Infamous, which looked at the 1930s gangster Machine Gun Kelly.
Atkins' novel The Ranger, due out in June, will debut his Quinn Colson series. Colson is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who returns home to north Mississippi to fight corruption on his home turf.
Then it's on to Spenser.
Atkins said he has been a fan of Parker's novels since high school.
"Reading Spenser is what inspired me to become a crime novelist," Atkins said. "Years ago, my mom waited in a long line at a booksigning in Atlanta to get a copy of Double Deuce signed by Parker for my 21st birthday. The inscription he wrote is when I first learned Bob's nickname was Ace. It's still one of my prized possessions. For me and a ton of readers, Spenser occupies that fourth chair at a table shared by Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Lew Archer. There are plenty of imitations but only one Spenser.”
Parker's last few completed novels were published posthumously by Putnam. The final work, Sixkill, the 39th entry in the Spenser series will hit the bookstores on May 3.
Parker also wrote several well-received westerns and other crime and suspense works. He created the female detective Sunny Randall for actress Helen Hunt who wanted him to write a part for her to play. Although the movie version was never filmed, his publisher the character and asked Parker to continue the series, according to the New York Times.