Talk about a bad day in the mystery world: last week e-mails came through to me almost simultaneously informing of the death of Robert B. Parker and the pending closing of The Mystery Company, Indiana’s only independent mystery bookstore and a place that has felt like home since I began to publish.
I’d offer a Parker tribute here, but I’ve read so many from writers far more eloquent than yours truly that I don’t know what’s left to say except that Robert B. Parker was for me, as for anyone who has touched the PI novel form in the last thirty years, a tremendous influence. Those first ten Spenser novels may well have saved the genre. It’s scary to consider how many of the current detective novelists we love may never have A) tried the form; or B) found a publisher who believed money could be made from the PI novel without Parker.
Anyone well versed in mystery fiction pointed back to Parker at some point in their discussions, and nobody was — is — better versed than Jim Huang, owner of The Mystery Company in Carmel, Indiana. The store hosted my first signing, and the first signing of each subsequent book, and, were the world in the palm of my hand, it would continue to do so for as long as anyone publishes my work. It’s closing, though, driven out of business by many factors that Jim articulates very well on his blog http://mysterycompany.typepad.com/jimhuang/2010/01/one-door-closes-.html and that won’t surprise anyone familiar with the struggles of independent business or bookselling. I wish Jim and his family the best as they move on, but Indiana is the poorer for watching them go.
Lest this be an unrelentingly bleak entry, I’ll add this: I spent last week teaching at the Eckerd College Writer’s Conference. (Still Writers in Paradise, www.writersinparadise.com to me, but I gather they’re in the midst of a name change). The conference was absolutely huge to me in my days there as a student, and it’s a wonderful treat to be able to return as a faculty member. There were a lot of talented students, writing hard, and that bodes well for the future. Kudos to Dennis Lehane and Sterling Watson for creating, and maintaining, something so great.