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Local crime novelist Dennis Lehane vividly remembers the first time he saw one of his longtime heroes, outside a Walden Books where he was working at the time. "I still have a vision of him crossing Cambridge Street," he said, and thinking, "That's Robert B. Parker."
"I was 19 at the point, I think I'd been reading him since I was maybe 12 or 13, back when you used to have to hunt his books down in old, used bookstores," Lehane told WBUR's Bob Oakes. "So I remember having that really kind of shaky, addled feeling you get when you think you're going to meet a major celebrity."
Parker died in his home in Cambridge on Monday. He was 77.
"He cast an enormous shadow over all of us, and that gets obscured because of how ridiculously successful he was, " Lehane said in an interview Wednesday. "He was the king of Boston. We were all kind of princes at best."
Many readers might say Lehane is selling himself short. The author followed in Parker's footsteps with his own Boston-based crime fiction, including "Mystic River," which was later made into an Academy-Award winning film, and "Gone, Baby, Gone," which was nominated for the same award.
Lehane said the hero of Parker's three dozen "Spenser" books, the uniquely tough private investigator, changed the way private eyes were featured in fiction. Parker created a character who was tough and fearless but also sensitive, well-read and devoted to his longtime girlfriend.
"There was private eye fiction before Parker and private eye fiction after Parker," said Lehane. "And you can literally split it into those sort of epochs. It's BP and AP."
Parker also revolutionized the genre by incorporating topical issues and humor, in Lehane's mind. "He was really, really funny, and that was huge," Lehane said. "For me and my friends — who were 12, 13, 14 — to pass those books around because they were so hard to find. It was all about that Boston sense of humor."
Parker's widow, Joan, said he died at his desk while writing, which Lehane said is a fitting final image.
"That's the dream. That's what we all want to do," Lehane said. "I don't know too many writers have the retirement dream, who have the 'die on the golf course' dream. You would like to die at your desk. And so he won."
This program aired on January 20, 2010.
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