Parker’s Spenser

Parker’s photo from the dust jacket of The Godwulf Manuscript, his first published Spenser novel.

I will likely be accused of gross understatement by those who read this and know my reading habits when I say that I’m a fan of the Spenser novels of Robert B. Parker (1932-2010). I’ve read all of the Spenser novels not once but uncountable times (most of them, at least 12 times, it is safe to say). I rarely tire of them. (I cannot say the same of those written by Ace Atkins since Parker’s death.)

Instead of singing Parker’s praises (nobody wants to hear me sing these days – trust me), I’m going to reproduce some of my favourite Spenserian excerpts. Nobody – nobody – writes better, sparer prose! (Okay, I might be a little biased.) Enjoy.

Spoiler Alert: I’m including links to the sources of each of the quotes shown below as a courtesy to those who are interested in the plot lines of each book. But please note that in most cases, the Wikipedia (and occasionally other) writers are not concerned about spoiling the plots for readers. So if you plan to read the books linked below, I would suggest you not read the plot summaries.

On Knowing Stuff (or not)
School Days

“I am finding out more and more about less and less,” I said. “I will eventually know everything about nothing.”

“Like law school,” she said.

“But with a better class of people,” I said.

That Long Distance Feeling
The Judas Goat

Talking on the phone from 5000 miles away was like the myth of Tantalus. It was better not to. The telephone company has lied to us for years, I thought. Always tell you that long distance is the next best thing to being there. All those people call up and feel swell afterward. I didn’t. I felt like beating up a nun.

Hawk (Spenser’s Black Side-Kick) on the Delights of Airplane Food

“You ever wonder why they don’t just serve you couple nice sandwiches on an airplane, ‘stead of trying to microwave you a five-course meal that tastes like a boiled Dixie cup?”

Winning Ways with Clients
The Godwulf Manuscript

The phone woke me again. I squinted against the brutal bright sunlight and answered.



“Spenser, this is Roland Orchard.” He paused as if waiting for applause.

I said “How nice for you.”

He said, “What?”

I said, “What do you want Mr. Orchard?”

“I want to see you. How soon can you get here?”

“As soon as I feel like it. Which may be awhile.”

“Spenser, do you know who I am?”

“I guess you’re Terry Orchard’s father.”

He hadn’t meant that. “Yes” he said. “I am. I am also senior partner at Orchard, Bonner, and Blanch.”

“Swell,” I said. “I buy all your records.”

“Spenser, I don’t care for your manner.”

“I’m not selling it, Mr. Orchard. You called me. I didn’t call you. If you want to tell me what you want without showing me your scrapbook, I’ll listen. Otherwise, write me a letter.”

On News Presenters
Taming a Sea-Horse

The five o’clock news ended. The six o’clock news began. The guys who read the news at six had deeper voices. Authoritative. If that trend continued, the guys who read the eleven o’clock news would sound like Paul Robeson.

Vinnie (another Side-Kick) and Hawk
Walking Shadow

With Hawk and Vinnie behind us, Jocelyn and I strolled through the misting drizzle to the theater next door. She went in to rehearsal, and I went up to Christopholous’ office on the second floor. Vinnie and Hawk lounged in the theater lobby, blending in to the theatrical scene like two coyotes at a poultry festival.

In Hospital After Being Shot

“We push this to sit up,” [the nurse] said. “And this one turns on our television. And if we need a nurse, we push this one.”

I said, “Are you going to get into bed with me? Or is this we stuff just a tease?”

She looked blankly at me for a moment. Then she grinned.

“Let’s wait until your leg is better,” she said.

“That’s what they all say.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” she said. “My name is Felicia. You want me” — she grinned — “for medical reasons, press the button.”

The Racial Gap
Back Story

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll get out here and walk down that hill past the pond toward the field house. You pull away up past the library and into the quadrangle. Park on the other end, closer to the field house, and see what’s up. If they come after me, you come lippity-lop to my rescue.”


“Yeah. Like Br’er Rabbit. I’m trying to bridge the racial gap.”

“Let it gap,” Hawk said.

Susan (Spenser’s Love Interest) Trying on Clothes
Thin Air

Susan was standing in front of the full-length mirror in the hotel room wearing black-and-white striped silk underwear. She had a short black skirt with a long black jacket held up in front of her, and was standing on  her toes to simulate high heels as she smoothed the skirt down over her thights.

“L’Orangerie is very dressy,” she said.


She tunred a little, watching how the jacket fell over the skirt, and then went back to the closet and got a pale gray pants suit and took it to the mirror.

“When we get to the restaurant,” I said, “won’t it be hard to eat holding your clothes in front of you like that?”

Susan’s powers of concentration could set driftwood on fire. She ignored me, and in fact, may not even have heard me.

Susan’s Sense of Timing
Hugger Mugger

Punctuality was not Susan’s strength. She always intended to be on time, but she seemed to have some kind of chronometric dyslexia, which thwarted her intent, nearly always. Had she been predictably late, say  fifteen minutes every time, then you could simply adjust your expectations. But she was sometimes a minute late and sometimes an hour late, and on rare and astonishing occasions, she was five minutes early. Since I had no way to guage her coming hither or her going hence, I accepted the fact that readiness is all, and remained calm.

Lincoln Centre
Taming A Sea-Horse

Lincoln Centre looked like an expressive complex of Turkish bathhouses, a compendium of neo-Arabic-Spanish and silly. It did for the West Side what Trump Tower did for the East, offering the chance for a giggle on even the drabbest day.

On Having an Exit Plan
Cold Service

We [Hawk and Spenser] sat and looked at the house. It sat high on some sort of ledge. The ocean was below it in the back. There was land on both sides, between it and its neighbors.

“Got an entry plan?” I said.


“Good to be working with a pro,” I said. “Assuming we get in, you got an exit plan?”

“Same as usual,” Hawk said.

“Run like hell?” I said.

“That one,” Hawk said.

5 thoughts on “Parker’s Spenser”

  1. Mr M……Brilliant post! Talk about putting a smile on my face. I’m going shopping. Probably start with The Godwulf Manuscript or The Judas Goat


      1. PS – If you happen across any of the Spencer for Hire videos (mostly from the late 80s and 1990s, as I recall) with Robert Urich in the starring role, I would probably suggest avoiding them, although I’ll admit to having seen most of them when they were released. There is no harm to it, but I think you’ll be disappointed.


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