Remembering Authors Robert Parker, Erich Segal

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Mystery novelist Robert Parker, best known for a nearly 40-volume series featuring tough and witty Boston private eye Spenser, died Monday in Boston. On Sunday, Erich Segal died of a heart attack in his London home. Segal wrote Love Story, which became a hit movie starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This was a week when two popular novelists died, Erich Segal and Robert B. Parker. They wrote very different stories, but their best known novels are set in almost the same place. NPRs Karen Grigsby Bates has this appreciation.

(Soundbite of song, "Love Story")

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: If you were in America, in college, or in love in the early 1970s, you cant help but recognize that as the theme to Love Story, the movie based on the 1970 novel by Erich Segal. The doomed romance between two Harvard students from sharply different backgrounds included a lot of spiky repartee and this famous exchange, which occurred after a big argument.

(Soundbite of movie, Love Story)

Mr. RYAN ONEAL (As Oliver Barrett IV): Jenny, Im sorry.

Ms. ALI MACGRAW (As Jennifer Cavalleri): Don't. Love means never having to say youre sorry.

BATES: While Segal was writing about lovers in Cambridge, Robert Parker was focusing on the other side of the Charles River - Boston. Parkers hero, a boxer turned private investigator named Spenser, was as tough as the P.I.s created by his literary forefathers, Dashiell Hammett,�Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. Best-selling mystery writer Robert Crais�says that iconic trio should be enlarged to include Parker.

Mr. ROBERT CRAIS�(Author): He deserves a place with those others, because he not only reinvigorated the detective novel in America, but he virtually recreated it.

BATES: His predecessors lived in dives and sleuthed in a mono-cultural world. But Spenser was different. He lived in a nice apartment in a lovely Boston neighborhood. His best friend was a black man named Hawk. Robert Urich and Avery Brooks portrayed the duo in the 1980s CBS drama based on Parkers books.

(Soundbite of TV show, Spenser: For Hire)

Mr. ROBERT URICH (As Spenser): Hawk, I want justice as badly as you do, but theres go to be another way.

Mr. AVERY BROOKS (As Hawk): Don't let that halo slip down over your eyes sometime when Im not around. I really would miss you.

BATES: Instead of being a loner, Spenser is devoted to his girlfriend Susan, a Harvard psychologist who is equally devoted to him. Boston is as much of a character in Parkers 37 Spenser novels as his people are.

In this 2008 MORNING EDITION interview, Parker tells NPRs Lynn Neary a scenic bridge in the Boston Public Garden reappears in several of his books because its a great place for bad guys to meet. Parker says bad things happening in beautiful places is something he borrowed from Renaissance painters.

Mr. ROBERT PARKER (Author): They would always put death in the picture, as you'd paint some landscape and death would be in a corner there. And I think that the more idyllic and pastoral the environment, the more the non-pastoral, non-idyllic stands out.

BATES: Parkers real life was far less complex. Married to his childhood sweetheart for more than 50 years, Parker loved being a husband, father and friend. Cambridge neighbor Kate Mattes�stocked his books in her mystery bookstore, where hed often stop by to visit.

Ms. Kate Mattes�(Former owner, Kates Mystery Books): I saw him within the last two weeks. And I said, do you ever think youll do anything - that youll ever stop writing. He said, Not until the day I die.

BATES: Which is exactly what happened. On Tuesday, Robert Parker died sitting at his writing desk, doing what he loved. He was 77 years old.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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