"I used to be a fighter. I used to be a cop. Now I am a private detective," I said. "I read a lot. I love Susan."
I paused for a moment thinking about it.
"The list," I said, "is probably in reverse order." - Double Deuce
Spenser is the central character in Robert Parker's first and most successful detective series, launched with The Godwulf Manuscript in 1973. In the initial book, we learn that Spenser is 37, a former boxer, who served in the military during the Korean War. He spent a few years in college on a football scholarship as a strong safety but dropped out when unable to continue playing. He worked for a time as a state trooper out of either the Suffolk Country or Middlesex County DA's office (depending on the book) before being fired for what he called "inner-directed behavior" and others call "being an insubordinate f*ing hotdog." Like many traditional private eyes, Spenser is a tough guy, at least 6'1" and approximately 200 lbs, who jogs at least 5-10 miles a day and spends hours a week lifting weights and working out in the boxing ring in the Harbor Health Club, owned by friend and former boxing trainer Henry Cimoli. He does this largely out of practicality, reasoning that it is valuable to him to be able to hit people effectively when he needs to and run away effectively when necessary. He is, in the best tradition of hardboiled private eyes, an irreverent wisecracker, but he is highly literate, frequently quoting Frost and Shakespeare, often for his own amusement. He spends a considerable amount of time in trying to determine the right thing to do, frequently skirting if not outright flouting the law in doing so. A central tenet of his belief system is that it is essential to establish rules for yourself, and abide by them no matter what. He respects people who do so, whatever side of the law they may be on. Spenser is friends with many cops, but also has a civil working relationship with many of Boston's leading organized crime leaders.
Parker wrote 40 Spenser novels before dying in 2010. Ace Atkins was authorized by the Parker estate to continue the series and has published three new Spenser novels as of 2014.
It's all about Spenser. The intrepid crew at B&B searched out many aspects of Spenser's life.
- The Spenser Cookbook. Unofficial collection of recipes from the books, mostly assembled by Mike Loux.
- The Homicides of Spenser. A list of people Spenser kills over the course of the series. This is a pretty long list.
- The Aging Gumshoe. An essay on how Spenser ages over the course of the series. (The answer isn't a simple one.)
The most important person in Spenser's life is Susan Silverman, a character introduced in the second novel, God Save the Child. Susan is a guidance counselor who later in the series earns a PhD in psychology from Harvard and becomes a practicing psychotherapist. He remains faithful to her, with one early exception, for the remainder of the series and tends to define his universe as revolving around her.
The other most important character in the series is Hawk, a mercenary leg breaker who Spenser knew from his boxing days. When Hawk is first introduced in Promised Land, he and Spenser are wary but mutually respectful opponents. The two work together on several cases in subsequent books and eventually become virtually inseparable, despite the fact that Hawk is a professional enforcer and killer.