Robert B. Parker: from Spenser to Sunny
Excerpts from the interview by Gary Warren Niebuhr in the December/January 2005 issue of Mystery News
Robert B. Parker was born in Massachusetts and left to attend college in Maine and then to serve in the Army in Korea. Returning to Massachusetts and Boston University, he earned a Ph.D. in English and taught at Boston's Northeastern University. He has been married to his wife Joan for 49 years and is the father of two sons. Parker has been in print since 1973 when he introduced the world to Spenser, the now famous Boston P.I. who has appeared in 31 novels. The character also inspired the television show Spenser: For Hire and some made for television movies shown on A&E.
Along the way Parker has introduced a series character named Jesse Stone who fled his job, wife and an alcohol problem in Los Angeles to take a job in the quiet sanctuary of Paradise, Massachusetts. Parker has even experimented with the Philip Marlowe character created by Raymond Chandler, explored the legendary Jackie Robinson, and set a novel in the Old West.
This interview is focused on Parker's lead female character, Boston P.I. Sonya "Sunny" Randall because the fourth novel in the series, Melancholy Baby, has just been published by Putnam. Sunny had her genesis in creating a character for actress Helen Hunt. Parker says, "Some time in 1997 I think Joan and I had a meeting with Helen and others to discuss creating a character for her to play in a series of movies. After a lot of talk it was decided that I would write a novel about a female private eye. My publisher would publish it, and Sony would buy it for Helen. That all happened except that the process of actually making the movie foundered (as it so often does). But the books did well and my publisher urged me to continue with them. I am told that Helen is contemplating the possibility with Sony of making a series of TV movies about Sunny Randall which she would produce, but not star in..."
In Melancholy Baby (Putman, 2004), Sunny is hired by a college-aged woman who is convinced her parents are not her birth parents. When Sarah Markham presses forward with her inquiry, her supposed parents George and Barb refuse to take the DNA test that would settle the issue. Intimidation comes Sunny's and Sarah's way, but death visits two other participants in this story. Once again, to protect her client, Sunny takes a young person into her home where the two investigate family relationships and the meaning of love. These same issues are discussed by Sunny with her new psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Silverman. Parker says, "Susan is secure in her own achievements and in her relationship with Spenser. She has no reason not to get along with anyone she chooses to get along with. She doesn't suffer fools gladly, but Sunny is no fool..."
For the second time in this series, Parker repeats a major theme that also appears in the Spenser series: children at risk. I wondered if this was a special theme for Parker or if children in danger was just good P.I. fodder. "In a good book, the work must be played for mortal stakes, I think, and there are not stakes more mortal than children. I don't know about P.I. fodder, but the ideas don't come from my own parental worries...my sons are 45 and 41." Equal in spirit to the other titles, but a lot less humorous, Melancholy Baby should still be recommended to anyone who has enjoyed the other books in the series. I believe that the use of dialog, the pace of the plots, and the introspective confessions of Sunny Randall will make this series appealing to readers of Sue Grafton and Linda Barnes.
Read the complete interview in the December/January 2005 issue of Mystery News