When I was twelve, I read The Complete Sherlock Holmes in one summer. I was a bookish kid living in a town where people didn't care much for books, so I loved the idea that a smart guy like Sherlock Holmes could use his mind to figure out stuff that baffled other people.
I still remember how sad I was when I came to the end of the last Sherlock Holmes story. I knew that never again would I have the excitement of turning one page after another to find how my hero outwitted the bad guy this time.
And now, many decades later, I'm in the same situation. I'm reading a book called Sixkill, by Robert B. Parker, which has just come out. I don't want to finish it, because Parker isn't going to write any more books. He died last year, and this is the last book featuring his creation, the best-loved of all American detectives, Spenser. (Although Spenser never revealed his first name, a character in one of the early books calls him "Jim.")
Lots of people have written tributes to Parker, and some of them say that reading the Spenser novels was a life-changing experience. How often do people say that about detective fiction? But then Spenser was no ordinary detective. Sure, he drank beer and lifted weights and killed people when he had to. But he also quoted poetry, loved the great old songs by Cole Porter and the Gershwins, and would risk his life rather than break his word.
Parker took seriously Raymond Chandler's line "Down these mean streets must walk a man of honor," and created Spenser as a man of honor for our troubled times. The New York Times was merely stating the obvious when it said of the Spenser series, "We are witnessing one of the great series in the history of the American detective story." No wonder Parker was named Grand Master of the Edgar Awards in 2002.
Parker wrote 38 Spenser novels, and that would be a lifetime's achievement for a lesser writer, but he also created two other detectives, Jesse Stone and Sunny Parker. Several of the Spenser books formed the basis for the TV series "Spenser for Hire" starring Robert Ulrich, and Tom Selleck has found a second lease on life as Jesse Stone in a number of terrific made-for-TV movies.
I hope there will be more movies, but there won't be any more books. Sixkill is Parker's update of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal of 1921, the first of the major Hollywood sex scandals. There's something poignant about the book, too, because for the first time Spenser acts as a mentor for a younger man -- his successor, perhaps? -- a Cree Indian named Zebulon Sixkill. It's as though Parker himself sensed that he had come to the end.
So, I'm going to finish Sixkill. I'll feel sad about it, but I'll have the consolation that I can start re-reading the 37 other Spenser novels.