View Full Version : Robert B. Parker's infamous detective character Spenser

04-15-2000, 04:11 PM
Neither I, nor my father have been able to discover what the full name of the main character in the majority of Robert B. Parker's books is. Obviously, Spenser is one of his names, however is this his first or last, or even middle name? And what is the rest of his name? Thank you, any insight would be appreciated.

04-15-2000, 04:19 PM
It never says, not in any of the books. Sometimes there'll be some dialogue like, "He asked me my first name and I told it to him," but Parker never tells you, the reader, what it was. It's always just "Spenser". Nifty gimmick, huh?

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!" - the White Queen

04-15-2000, 04:22 PM
Sorry, left out something: it's definitely his last name. He's always "Mr. Spenser" when people who ordinarily would use "Mr." are using it.

Otherwise, he's just "Spenser".

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!" - the White Queen

04-15-2000, 04:24 PM
Yes, I know. It is incredibly frustrating when people ask him his name, and the text simply says,

"The lead detective asked me my name, and I told him" of the like. Sheesh.

04-15-2000, 05:49 PM
Having read every Spenser book from The Godwulf Manuscript to Hugger Mugger, I can confirm that nowhere is his name given.

Neither is Hawk's.

One other point of interest: Spenser's getting pretty old. He was a Korean War vet, after all. He may not always be the toughest kid on the block.

- Rick

C K Dexter Haven
04-15-2000, 07:01 PM
JFM -- you might want to take a look in the dictionary, checking whether the word "infamous" means what you intended.

04-15-2000, 07:35 PM
Well, I've read about a dozen of the Spenser novels and it's never even occurred to me to wonder about his first name! It's great to really get a useful and definative piece of information from this board (even if the answer's no answer).

BTW, did you see the Simpson's episode where Homer decides to track down what his middle initial "J" stands for. We finally learn the answer to this long-standing mystery. It stands for "Jay."


Two things fill my mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe: the starry skies above me and the moral law within me. -- Kant

Little Nemo
04-15-2000, 11:06 PM
By an amazing coincidence three famous fictional detectives, Spenser, Quincy, and Columbo, all have the same first name.

04-16-2000, 12:31 PM
And it's "Dick", right?

Ukulele Ike
04-16-2000, 12:39 PM
For a change of pace in your private eye reading (well away from the bestseller list, too) try Bill Pronzini's books about the Nameless Detective. SHACKLES is a pretty good one, as I recall.

Told in first person, and you never learn given OR last name.


04-16-2000, 04:19 PM
from Merriam-Webster, 1997

Main Entry: in·fa·mous
Pronunciation: 'in-f&-m&s
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin infamis, from in- + fama fame
Date: 14th century
1 : having a reputation of the worst kind
2 : causing or bringing infamy : DISGRACEFUL
3 : convicted of an offense bringing infamy
- in·fa·mous·ly adverb

Entry Word: nosy
Function: adjective
Text: Synonyms CURIOUS 2, inquisitive, inquisitorial, inquisitory, | |nibby, peery, prying, snoopy


"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!" - the White Queen

04-16-2000, 04:29 PM
Although I agree that Spenser, supposedly a Korean War vet (not unlike Robert B. PArker himself) HAS to be way too old to act like such a tough guy... Parker has always claimed that SPenser was based on Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe's wisecracking sidekick. And in Rex Stout's world, Archie and NEro never aged. The world changed, EVERYTHING changed around them, but Stout wrote NEro WOlfe mysteries for almost 50 years, and never allowed his heroes to age.

So, even though the "real" SPenser must be 67+ years old, he's probably still 35 or so in Parker's mind.

Personally, I never much liked Spenser. Oh, I like the wisecracks (Parker is good at witty banter), but the plots are both asinine and predictable, and Parker's political correctness gets tiresome quickly (the villain is always a millionaire industrialist arms merchant, and Spenser is constantly coming to the rescue of lesbian activists, etc. Yawn.)

04-16-2000, 04:39 PM
Hm, now I'm wondering where the "nameless detective" (or partially-named detective) tradition got started. I'm familiar with Dashiell Hammett's "Continental Op" stories, which again pointedly go out of their way to avoid giving his real name. Maybe he started this particular tradition? Or is it older than Hammett? --N

C K Dexter Haven
04-16-2000, 04:55 PM
MFJ: That's fine. In the context, I thought you might indeed mean "infamous" but so many people use "infamous" to mean the opposite of "famous", or to mean "should-be-famous-but-isn't", that I just wanted to ask.

Astorian: In the last several books, Spenser has talked about how he's aged. He probably isn't in his 60s, but he's not in his 30s anymore, either... It's a problem for writers, with having your characters remain timeless or aging them.

04-16-2000, 05:35 PM
Ed McBain's 87th Precinct is the same. When he started the series in the 50's, the characters were WWII vets, then as time passed it changed to Korea, Vietnam, Gulf...but most of the characters remain thirysomething.

04-17-2000, 01:30 AM
CK: Of course I meant infamous. Is it not true that Spenser's nosy reputation precedes him? I believe he once said, "The secretary remembered me, and greeted me with a warm smile. A combination I don't often get." or something to the like. However, I admit infamous may not mean exactly nosy, pain in the ass, but I couln't think of a better word. What would you suggest?

Ukulele Ike
04-17-2000, 10:26 AM

Offhand, I can think of at least one example that predates Hammett: the Baroness Orczy's series of short stories about the Old Man in the Corner, first appearing in The Royal Magazine in 1901. (The first book collection came out in 1909.) The Old Man was one of the great figures of early detective fiction, and the stories are the first significant modern tales about an armchair detective.

The Old Man sits at a corner table in a cheap restaurant catering to journalists and plays with a piece of string, which he ties into elaborate knots as he talks. Addressing himself to Polly Burton, a young newspaperwoman, he focuses upon crimes mentioned in the newspaper. He summarizes the circumstances, describes the personalities, and then sneeringly provides the correct solution, which has evaded the police.

In a later (and weaker) story collection, the Old Man is identifed as "Bill Owen." But this is mere trivia; for all intents and purposes, he is a nameless detective.


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