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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Visit With Widow Of ‘Spenser’ Creator Robert Parker

Though best-selling mystery writer Robert Parker died last year, his last novel in the Spenser detective series, “Sixkill,” has just been published.

We tour Parker’s Cambridge, Mass., home with his widow Joan Parker, who was the inspiration for the Susan Silverman character in the Spenser novels.

Book Excerpt: Sixkill

By Robert Parker

Language advisory

IT WAS SPRING. The vernal equinox had done whatever it was it did, and the late March air drifting in through the open window in my offi ce was soft even though it wasn’t really warm yet. Spring training was under way in full tiresomeness, and opening day was two weeks off. I was drinking coffee and studying a new comic strip called Frazz to see if there were any existential implications that I might be missing, when Quirk came in and went to the coffeepot, poured himself a cup, added sugar and condensed milk, and took a seat opposite my desk.

“Care for coffee?” I said.

“Got some,” Quirk said. “Nice of you to ask.”

“You ever read Frazz?” I said.

“What the fuck is Frazz,” Quirk said.

He was as big as I was, which is biggish, and always dressed well. Today he had on a chestnut-colored Harris tweed jacket. His hands were thick, and there was in his eyes a look of implacable resolution that made most people careful with him.

“A comic strip in the Globe,” I said. “It’s new.”

“I’m a grown man,” Quirk said.

“And a police captain,” I said.

“Exactly,” Quirk said. “I don’t read comic strips.”

“I withdraw the question,” I said.

Quirk nodded.

“I need something,” he said.

“Everyone says so.”

He ignored me. Quirk ignored a lot. He wasn’t being impolite. He was merely focused, and I had known for years that he cared very little what other people thought.

“You know about Jumbo Nelson?”

“The actor,” I said.


“Here shooting a movie,” I said.


“You guys think he murdered a young woman,” I said.

“He’s a person of interest,” Quirk said.

I looked at him. I’d known him a long time.

“And?” I said.

“Lemme fi ll you in,” Quirk said.

I got up and poured myself more coffee, and warmed Quirk’s up. Then I put the pot on the burner, sat down in my chair, and leaned back with my feet up.

“Do,” I said.

“Real name’s Jeremy Franklin Nelson,” Quirk said. “Ever seen him?”

“Seen his photograph,” I said. “Never seen a movie.”

“Photo’s enough,” Quirk said. “You can see where the nickname came from.”

“I can,” I said.

“He’s in town,” Quirk said, “shooting a movie. Which you know.”

“As yet untitled,” I said.

“Frazz tell you that?” Quirk said.

“I’m adventurous,” I said. “Sometimes I read other stuff.”

“Fucking media’s treating this like it was the Lindbergh kidnapping.”

“Lotta media to fill,” I said.

“Too much,” Quirk said. “Always was. Anyway, Jumbo is in town, travels with a bodyguard, an Indian.”

“A Native American?”

Quirk nodded.

“Like I said.”

“Could be an India Indian,” I said.

“This guy’s American Indian,” Quirk said. “Wait’ll you get a load of him.”

“Dangerous?” I said.

“I dunno,” Quirk said. “Looks good.”

“Bodyguard involved?” I said.

“In the crime? Not that I know of,” Quirk said.

“Press tells me that Jumbo raped and murdered a young woman and should be beheaded at once.”

“Yeah,” Quirk said. “That’s what they tell me, too. What everybody tells me.”

“You have doubts?”

Quirk shrugged.

“Here’s what I know,” he said. “Girl’s name is Dawn Lopata, twenty years old, graduated last year from Bunker Hill Community College, was not employed.”

Quirk sipped some coffee.

“More sugar,” he said.

He went to the coffeemaker on the fi le cabinet and got some, and stirred it in, and sat back down. He took another sip and nodded.

“She’s watching them shoot a scene outdoors on the Common, near Park Street Station, and Jumbo spots her. He sends a production assistant over to invite her to have lunch with him in the commissary. She’s thrilled.”

“As I would be,” I said.

“Yeah,” Quirk said. “Me too. So she has lunch with all the stars and the movie crew, and Jumbo gets her phone number and says maybe they can get together later, and she says oh-wow-yes.”

“Do you know she said that?”

“The oh-wow-yes?” Quirk said. “No. So he calls her that night and she goes over to his hotel. They drink some champagne. They do some lines. They have sex. When they get through, they get dressed. Jumbo excuses himself for a moment while he goes to the bathroom. And while he’s gone she lies back down on the bed and dies.”

“I was having sex with Jumbo Nelson,” I said, “I might consider it myself.”

“It was after,” Quirk said.

“Maybe she died of shame,” I said.

“There was considerable bruising around the vaginal area,”

Quirk said.

“Suggesting an, ah, accessory object?”

“ME isn’t sure,” Quirk said. “Maybe Jumbo really is jumbo.”

“Cause of death?” I said.

“ME thinks it’s asphyxiation,” Quirk said. “They found some ligature marks on her neck. But they don’t seem entirely comfortable with how they got there.”

“They’re not sure?” I said.


“Aren’t they supposed to be sure?” I said.

“For crissake,” Quirk said. “One case I had, they lost the fucking body.”

“That would be disheartening,” I said.

“Was,” Quirk said. “Also, when they’re not sure, it gives a lot of space for rumors.”

“I heard one report that the accessory object was the neck of a champagne bottle and it broke inside her and she bled to death.”

Quirk shook his head.

“I know,” Quirk said. “No evidence of it.”

“I don’t think the Internet requires evidence.”

“Or knows how to get it,” Quirk said.

“How ’bout Jumbo?” I said.

“Says he doesn’t know what happened. Admits he was whacked on coke and booze. He says he left her alone and when he came back in the bedroom, he notices she’s not responsive. Tries to wake her up. Can’t. And calls nine-one-one.”

“He’d been on top of her?” I said.

“Apparently,” Quirk said. “At some point.”

“Jesus,” I said.

“I know, and we’ve thought about that.”

“How much does he weigh?” I said.

“Don’t know,” Quirk said. “I’d say three-fi fty to four hundred.

He claims he doesn’t know, either.”

“What kind of guy is he?” I said.

“Awful,” Quirk said. “Food, booze, dope, sex. Never saw a girl too young. Or a guy.”

“Long as it’s alive?” I said.

“I don’t know if he requires that,” Quirk said.

“But a nice guy aside from his hobbies,” I said.

“Loud, arrogant, stupid, foulmouthed,” Quirk said.

“You think he’s foulmouthed?”

“Fucking A,” Quirk said.

Copyright (c) 2010 by the Estate of Robert B. Parker.

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  • Bekoch

    I was so in love with the Spenser character (tv show in the early 80′s too) we named our now 23 year-old son after him.

  • Griersl

    My hubby is addicted to this man’s books.  What a genius!  He’s forever interrupting my thought process to quote from them.  (I secretly relish this!)

  • Ricknelson8

    I enjoyed every book Mr. Parker wrote. He was a true master. I have read that the Jesse Stone and Spenser novels will continue with other authors writing them. I would very much like to see someone do the Cole/Hitch Westerns. I loved them and commented to my wife that I wished he had written those since the start of his writing career.

  • Ddreed

    Whenever I complete an online profile and am asked for the name of my favorite author, I always indicate “Robert B. Parker”. I began reading the Spenser series years ago and have read every Parker book to date, including the Jesse Stone series and Sunny Randall books as well as the Westerns. With every word that I read, I so wish that I could write like Parker wrote. His style was captivating and his dialog was compelling, and I truly hope that those who carry on the franchaise will be able to capture the legacy that Parker created through his writing.

  • Kckmc0804

    Lovely, warm and charming home.  He really loved you Joan!  I am so glad you have continued with the character.  May life bring you continued joy and peace.  Kathleen

  • Sisi

    Thank you for sharing your home and you. I feel I’ve lost my best friend. I have read every book Mr Parker wrote and have just finished Lullaby. I look forward
    to the next. I downloaded Mr Parker and David singing Moon River love hearing them
    sing. “Your spirit is the true shield”.

  • B.J. Taylor

    I was so shocked and saddened when I heard about your husband.  I have all the Spenser novels, most of Jessie, and some of Sunny.  I would rather read a Robt. Parker novel than anything else I can think of.   Whenever I was sad, I would turn to Spenser who could always make me laugh.  Now I am a widow, older, & have a smaller home I no longer purchase the books, but have turned to the Library.  I have my name on the ‘wait’ list for Lullaby.  I am hoping whomever takes up his mantle will carry it with the wonder/wit/great discriptions/and understanding that he did.
    May you carry on your life as you see it, and as I am sure he would have wished for you.
    Most sincerely, 
    bj taylor  Jackson, MI  

  • Wens

    We recently had friends visit from CA. Although they wanted to see many historical sights in the Boston area, their trip would not be complete until they saw the building which was Spencer’s  office on the television show. We thought it was on Boylston St.  but between research and asking in the area we weren’t sure which building or which window was the office. Sadly they returned to CA without knowing.Please explain where this building was and which office was Spencer’s.  This info would make our year!!!!!!!!!         Looking forward to your reply.

  • Joan

    Got abt 100 pages to go in Sixkill, loving the book.  Very tragically his last.  Joan Parker, apparently rocks on.  Will read the many haven’t.  To paraphrase Frank when he bid his his audiences farewell ( and now Nancy on Siriously Sinatra) Sleep Warm Spenser.

  • Ramarin2266

    how about a cook book of roberts cooking skills,let me know when comes out i just love it when cooks ,icook but nim, bad,,,  ramartin2266@yahoo.com

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