Mystery novelist Parker, 77, dies at desk

Mystery novelist Robert B. Parker and his wife, Joan, in the back yard of their home near Harvard Square. (Photo: robertbparker.net)

Mystery novelist Robert B. Parker and his wife, Joan, in the back yard of their home near Harvard Square. (Photo: robertbparker.net)

Mystery novelist Robert B. Parker, of Ash Street in Cambridge, died Monday morning at 77.

His agent, Helen Brann, is quoted in The Boston Globe as saying he is believed to have died of a heart attack while his wife, Joan, was out.

“She saw him early in the morning, went out for her exercise, came back an hour later, and he was gone,” Brann told the Globe. “He was at his desk, as he so often was.”

Alexa Manocchio, spokeswoman for the Cambridge police department, confirmed the death was of natural causes and was not considered suspicious.

Parker was the author of more than 35 “Spenser” novels, nine “Jesse Stone” novels and many others — 65 in all.

His book signings were a regular affair at Kate’s Mystery Books on Massachusetts Avenue, the now-defunct specialty bookstore run by Kate Mattes.

“He seemed a really great guy and cared a lot for Kate,” said Melissa Gallagher, the store’s Web master and photographer, who would see him at the signings.

“It’s really a shame,” she said of his death.

A message was left with Mattes, whom Gallagher believed to be in mourning Tuesday.

Frank Kramer, of the Harvard Book Store, said he was unable to answer questions Tuesday.

Parker made much of Boston locations in his novels, but he was a longtime resident of Cambridge. His home is outside Harvard Square near the Charles River, where he had as neighbors not just Harvard University offices, but Lawrence H. Tribe, the university’s famed constitutional law professor.

Two other neighbors were saddened but unaware until Tuesday afternoon that Parker had died, although one had seen ambulances gathered at his home the previous morning. The calm of the rescue personnel led Willa Bodman to believe all was well at the Parker home, and she was stunned to learn her inference was wrong.

“He was an extremely kind, nice gentleman,” said Bodman, a teacher and lover of literature who had read some of Parker’s novels.

Bodman said she would wave to Parker daily as she walked past his office window, through which he could be seen at his desk.

“I know he’d be sitting there and writing, and that was a very comforting image,” she said.

Bodman and another neighbor, who arrived back to the city at around midnight and had also missed news of Parker’s death, agreed that, although he was still relatively young, the author had also seemed to have a full, good life.

His official biography says was born and raised in Massachusetts, Parker attended Colby College in Maine, served with the army in Korea and completed a Ph.D. in English at Boston University. He married his wife in 1956; they raised two sons, David and Daniel. Together the Parkers founded Pearl Productions, a Boston-based independent film company named after their short-haired pointer, Pearl, who has also been featured in many of Parker’s novels.

Parker began writing his Spenser novels in 1971 while teaching at Northeastern University. Parker’s fictional Spenser inspired the ABC-TV series “Spenser: For Hire.” He also served as source and consultant for the “A Man Called Hawk” television series and as writer on many television shows and made-for-television movies. The biography on his Web site specifically mentions CBS’ February 2005 adaptation of the Jesse Stone novel “Stone Cold,” which featured Tom Selleck in the lead role as Parker’s small-town police chief. There was a  second CBS movie, “Night Passage,” and a final one, “Death in Paradise,” which aired April 30, 2006. Occasionally he would appear onscreen, usually uncredited.

Parker was named grand master of the 2002 Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America.

It is not known who is in charge of funeral arrangements.

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