Remember May 2020?
It was bad.
Two months earlier, California – my state – had become the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, mandating all residents to stay at home except to go to an essential job or shop for essential needs.
If we ventured out for essential jobs or needs, we were told to stay six feet apart from others, and wear face masks.
Not that you could find face masks to buy anywhere.
And as for other essential needs, the toilet paper aisle at the grocery store looked like this:
In May 2020, COVID-19 deaths passed the 100,000 mark, and a vaccine seemed more like a wish list item than something that could come out of drug companies, go into arms and save lives.
May 2020 was bad.
But I was and am one of the lucky ones, in so many ways. One way is – I love to read. As long as I’ve got good books to read, I’m never bored.
Another way: My amazing library started doing home deliveries the day after the pandemic shut it down. All I had to do was go on the library’s website, request what I wanted, and my books arrived every Tuesday.
And in May 2020 I realized I wanted to reread Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series.
And yes, that’s Spenser…with an “s.”
My parents were Parker fans, and years ago they got me started reading his books. I resisted at first; who wants to read the same thing as their uncool parents? Plus, detective stories weren’t my thing.
But I gave in and gave Parker a try. He was easy to read and from the very first book – The Godwulf Manuscript – I was hooked.
Parker’s website describes Spenser as “the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye,” and he is that. But he’s much more: smart, honorable, resourceful, kind, tough, dependable, consistent, and brave.
But Spenser is no Boy Scout – he’s kicks plenty of ass, sometimes shoots people, and sometimes shoots to kill.
He’s also funny. And an excellent cook. And sometimes, something of a philosopher.
I knew that if I reread the Spenser books that I’d have hours and hours of enjoyment, smiles and satisfaction.
In May 2020 there wasn’t much of that to go around.
So I started rereading the Spenser series, in order. But to make the pleasure last, I rationed my reading. I’d read a Spenser book, and then a book or two by different authors. I knew when the last of Parker’s books was coming, and I was in no rush to meet it.
A year later, in May 2021, when the library delivered Parker’s last Spenser book – his 39th, entitled Sixkill – I opened it with a mixed bag of emotions: reverence, sadness, nostalgia and gratitude.
I finished Sixkill with the same emotions.
There’s so much more I could say about Parker, and Spenser, and Spenser’s proclivity for quoting obscure (to me, at least) writers, and Parker’s recurring characters, but…
All that is better discovered by the reader.
And is my case – rediscovered.
According to one source – not Parker’s website – Parker was 77 when he died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Cambridge, MA in 2010. It said he was discovered at his desk by his wife Joan, where he’d been working on a novel.
But Spenser lives on, now in books written by Ace Atkins, as decided by Parker’s estate and publishers. Since 2010 Atkins has produced nine Spenser novels, and Spenser is still Spenser: “the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye,” plus all the other attributes I mentioned.
Atkins’ books were good. I enjoyed them, and I’ll reread them.
And I’ll have a few more months – and more good laughs – with my pandemic pal.
“Halfway through my steak I caught sight of myself in the mirror behind the bar. I looked like someone who ought to eat alone. I didn’t look in the mirror again.”
– Robert B. Parker, The Godwulf Manuscript
“Mary sat, quiet and attentive and blank. It wasn’t like talking to a dumb seventh-grader, it was like talking to a pancake.”
– Robert B. Parker, Widow s Walk
“So far so good. I had a recently widowed mother and her orphaned son crying hysterically. Maybe for an encore I could shoot the family dog.”
– Robert B. Parker, Pale Kings and Princes
“Wanting more than you can have will spoil what you’ve got.”
– Robert B. Parker, Wilderness
“She was wearing something in purple suede that was too short for a skirt and too long for a belt.”
– Robert B. Parker, The Godwulf Manuscript
“I took a sip. It went surprisingly well with the veal. On the other hand, the fourth margarita goes surprisingly well with everything.”
– Robert B. Parker, Taming a Seahorse