Oct 20, 2013
06:49 AMArts & Entertainment
Robert Parker's Agent Helen Brann Writes His Last 'Spenser' Detective Story
There is always an involuntary little gasp of dismay, audible or not, when a devoted reader hears of the death of a favored author. Suddenly a world closes; anticipated pleasure in again entering that world is denied.
Thus it was for fans of Robert B. Parker, prolific creator of the popular Spenser and Jesse Stone crime series, who died suddenly—and appropriately—as he sat at his desk writing yet-another story about the macho-but-sensitive private detective, Spenser.
If it was a shock for his readers, it was an even bigger blow for his family—wife Joan and their two sons, Daniel and David—and for his literary agent and longtime friend, Helen Brann of Bridgewater. Even while reeling from the emotions surrounding his loss, they were forced to face a pile of contracts the author had signed to produce more books. Advance payments had been received from the publisher, G.P. Putnam Sons, money that had to be repaid if the books were not produced.
“Joan and I were great friends and after Bob died we became even closer,” said Brann as she sat in her comfortable Bridgewater home, where she continues her role as literary agent to a stable of thoroughbred authors such as Maya Angelou, Julian Barnes, Robert B. Parker, Barbara Leaming, Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine, Peter Vaughn, Gerald Clarke, Ingrid Thoft and Stephen Sondheim.
“Suddenly, Joan had no money [coming in] and she had to pay back Putnam,” she continued. “His death was so sudden and we were truly grief-stricken—in a daze. Everything was kind of in limbo. He had just started another Spenser book—in fact, he was working on it when he died—and Joan, who died this year and who was very salty, funny, wry and great, said, ‘What are we going to do about the f---ing Christmas book?’ I said, ‘I was thinking maybe I should write it,’ and she said, ‘Could you? Would you?’”
With that decision, Robert B. Parker’s literary career was resurrected from the grave.
The book, “Silent Night,” that Brann so impulsively agreed to write is now on the market, just in time for Christmas giving. While other Spenser and Jesse Stone novels have since been assigned to other writers to continue the franchise, Ms. Brann’s book contains the last chapters written by the master storyteller, and she manages to make a seamless transition between his writing and her own.
While she has made her living representing other writers, Brann is no stranger to the act of writing. Born in 1932 in Colorado Springs, Colo., to a wildcat oilman, she and her family moved frequently. She attended 12 schools in Colorado, California, Pennsylvania and Kansas before she turned 14 and was sent to Ethel Walker School in Simsbury. Later, after graduating from Smith College, she worked at the New Yorker in the 1950s while struggling to get her own writing career underway.
“I worked seriously hard at being a writer,” she related, “and everyone encouraged me. I lived in England and Ireland from 1958 to 1963, working as a freelance editor and writing a novel. I had a few short stories published, but I kept getting turned down. I returned to New York in 1963 and a friend said, ‘Helen, you need a real job that gives you a framework.’”