Thanks, Robert B. Parker.

One of my favorite authors died Monday, Jan. 18. His name was Robert B. Parker, as you no doubt gathered from the first sentence of this blog. I didn’t find out he was dead until Tuesday evening, after I came home from work. I was depressed. A lot of my favorites have died in recent years: Mickey Spillane (a boyhood hero I got a chance to meet as a man); Tony Hillerman, famous for books about the Navajo Tribal Police; Stuart Kaminsky, famous for his novels about policemen in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia—and now Parker.

I do wish my favorite writers would stop dying. It reminds me I’m mortal. That’s annoying.

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, I hit the Seal Beach Mary Wilson Library Branch during a work break in hope of finding something of Parker’s I had not read yet. There was book for teens (“Edenville Owls”) and a novel about Wyatt Erpp (“Gunman’s Raphsody”); neither was the sort of book I’d like to read. I checked the Friends of the Library Bookstore. No new Parker. I went back to work.

At home, I checked out Robert B. Parker’s Web site and was delighted to see he left quite few books I hadn’t gotten around to reading just yet. Parker was a prolific writer—according to his New York Times obit, he had more than 60 published in his lifetime. That sounds about right. The good news: he was so prolific that he’d churned out several books since I’d last read one of his Spenser private eye stories.

So I have a few more good hours to spend on his private eye novels and his tales of small town police chief Jesse Stone. Chief Stone’s town of Paradise, Mass., is so small that the police department has no detective bureau. Oddly enough, it attracts a disproportionate number of serial killers and mob hit men—but small towns in detective fiction seem to suffer from that problem. (Some of the best police novels written by civilians have been set in small towns. Maybe because it is more plausible to have a detective working on a single case when the town only has one murder a year.)

I must confess, as the crime reporter for the Sun Newspapers, that I’m relieved Seal Beach doesn’t hold much attraction for professional killers. (The amateurs are bad enough.) They have their place in fiction—a story is only as strong as its villain—but in real life I prefer they keep as far as possible from the community I live in. These streets are seldom mean and I like it that way.

Back to Parker: He was a Raymond Chandler imitator—overtly and proudly. He even finished Chandler’s last, unfinished novel “Poodle Springs.” (Frankly, it read like a finished first draft of Chandler. Then again, I don’t know how many drafts Chandler wrote.) Parker’s plots were usually fairly straight-forward; few of his books qualify as whodunits (although “Walking Shadow” ends with a twist that left me astonished). His stories were, in fact, formulaic. You could always count on a professional leg breaker showing up to try to intimidate the hero. He usually considered this a clue that someone he had spoken with was not all that honorable. Some people would say the stories were clichéd—certainly the structure often was, yet he could render some remarkable and surprising variations on his themes within the predictable structure. “Walking Shadow” contains one of the most realistic portraits of a stalker I’ve ever read.

In one respect, Parker was superior to Chandler: Raymond Chandler made up his stories as he went along and often had no clue as to why things happened. His stories, therefore, don’t hold together too logically and there are sometimes unresolved issues left over. Parker’s stories are so simple that logic flaws are nearly impossible in most cases. (Though you’ll do yourself a favor if you skip “A Catskill Eagle.”)

In a way, it doesn’t really matter if Parker was good or bad. If you’ve read Parker more than once, you probably enjoyed reading him. (Why read him more than once if you didn’t enjoy it?) He has a new book coming out in late February. One newspaper account reports there are two more novels waiting to be published. At the risk of sounding cynical, I’ll believe that when I see them on the shelves. His Web site does not mention his recent death. If you haven’t read him, I don’t know that it is my place to encourage you to do so. Besides, some people hate detective fiction and they are entitled to that dislike. We’re not talking about great literature here—not by any means. It was Mr. Parker’s job to entertain people and he earned a living doing it for more than 30 years. He died while working at his desk. Not a bad obit, really. He gave people pleasure and he died on the job. The rest of us could do a lot worse. If I’m lucky, that’ll be my obit—preferably a lot of years from now, thanks.

I’ve gone online and searched the Orange County Public Library catalog at ocpl.org and placed holds on some of his books that I haven’t read yet. I’m going to miss Parker’s stories. Thanks, Mr. Parker, for a lot of hours of fun—including the hours of free time I’ll spend reading the last of your books. Maybe I’ll even read the books your wrote that were aimed at kids. I might learn something about writing. It’s always possible. Even if I don’t learn anything, I expect to have some harmless fun.

By Charles M. Kelly

Haiti is on my mind. I’m tempted to comment on Rev. Pat Robertson’s recent remarks about the causes of that country’s most recent sorrows. I’ll pass. Others fare more eloquent than I have made their comments on his foolish words and it is time to focus on more important things. For some, that will be sending money to help Haiti. I don’t doubt a good bit of that money will come from Seal Beach. The Sun Region is populated with compassionate, caring people who—even in a bad economy—have a little money to spare for their fellow human beings.

If you do decide to make a donation to Haiti—or any worthy cause—make sure you’re sending your money to a legitimate charity.

Some humans are capable of great generosity—some will send money they really can’t spare to help Haitians in the wake of the devastation caused by the recent earthquake. Some humans are capable of great callousness and greed—some will concoct imaginary charitable organizations and use either the phone or the Internet to bilk the generous. Greed is only part of what motivates them. Such confidence artists probably derive no small delight from diverting funds from the needy to the unworthy. I wouldn’t be shocked if a very small minority of the people traveling to Haiti at this time are there to see how much ill they can do while others are attempting to do good.

So if you’re going to give to help the people of Haiti, keep a couple of things in mind. Joanne Fritz, of About.com, recommends checking with the IRS as a starting point. (For more tips on giving to legitimate charities, I recommend “Joanne’s Nonprofits Blog” at About.com. She is one of that site’s experts on non-profits.) I’d also add the rather obvious tip that if you’ve never heard of the organization you should quickly develop a healthy case of suspicion. If you have the slightest doubt you can trust the charity or the individual representing the charity, keep your money where it is. Once this immediate crisis is over, Haiti will need help to rebuild. Sad to say, Haiti will need all the generosity it can get for a long time to come.

By Charles M. Kelly

Sometimes the human race worries me.

I recently had occasion to write an obituary for a 20-something Chihuahua named Wheely Willy. (You’ll be reading the obit in an upcoming issue of the Sun Newspapers.) He was found about 20 years ago in Los Angeles, in a sealed cardboard box. According to his human mom Deborah Turner, his back was broken, his vocal chords cut and he had no hair on the lower part of his body.

What possessed someone to abandon an animal like that, to starve or freeze or be thrown into a garbage truck?

No one will ever know.

A veterinarian took him in and cared for him for about a year.

Turner heard about the little Chihuahua and tried to find a home for him.

In the end, she adopted him. Or maybe Willy adopted her. In any event, the two were constant companions for the next two decades until the night of Dec. 22, 2009, when Willy passed away in his sleep.

In the 20 years that passed between their first and last day together, Turner wrote two books about Willy and the little guy became something of a celebrity in the Long Beach area. His passing made the Press-Telegram and other newspapers. He apparently inspired adults and children wherever he went. According to Turner, he had no malice or aggression in him. He didn’t understand why people would cry when they say the paraplegic Chihuahua in a wheelchair for dogs.

Willy didn’t have time for anger, self-pity or depression. (Those are vices of “intelligent” creatures like human beings.) He just kept on going as long as there was life in him. Along the way, he brought love to his “mom” and gave inspiration to people in many nations and continents. He was a frequent guest at hospitals and schools. He even rode in the Belmont Shore Christmas Parade.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about humans.

Yes, one … pathetic idiot abandoned him long time ago. Yet a few people went out of their way to help him live and enjoy life. Many more are going to say good-bye to a tiny friend who made the most of what he had.

Maybe a few of us could learn something from the little guy.

Willy will be honored in a ceremony from noon to 2 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Memorial Garden at the Long Beach Animal Care Services’ P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village, located at 7700 East Spring St., in Long Beach.

By Charles M. Kelly

I recently met a Leisure World man named Raymond Biel. He co-piloted a weather plane over the Japanese city of Nagasaki on Aug. 6, 1945. Perhaps the date is familiar to you. The weather was clear over several Japanese cities that day, among them the city of Hiroshima. You’ll be reading details of that story in the Sun Newspapers.

This isn’t the first time writing for the Sun has allowed me direct contact with history. I once covered a speech given by Laura Hillman, a Holocaust survivor who was one of the roughly 1,100 Jews saved by Oskar Schindler. If you’re curious, you’ll find her story in a book she wrote: “I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree.”

Touching history is one of the great perks of journalism. It doesn’t happen often, but now and then, you get to meet someone who was there “when history was made.” It’s a great treat.

Why don’t we tell more historical stories? In many cases, the people who have the best stories to tell don’t realize the importance of their stories. We might call their experiences history. They simply see those great events as moments in their lives and modestly don’t realize they have something to share with their fellow human beings.

So I’m asking if you know someone who was there when a defining moment in history—world history, U.S. history, California history or good old Seal Beach history. If you know, ask them to share their stories with the Sun Newspapers. Have them contact Sun Editor Dennis Kaiser at dennis@sunnews.org.