A few months after Robert B. Parker died of a heart attack at his writing desk in January of 2010, his publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, approached Ace Atkins with a proposition. Parker’s family wanted Spenser, one of the most iconic private detectives in crime fiction history, to live on; and they were searching for the right writer to continue the series. Would Ace like to audition for the role by sending in 50 sample pages?

This was not an offer to be taken lightly.

Twenty-six years ago, long before I’d written my first crime novel, I had a long conversation with the great Robert B. Parker and got an earful about how it’s done.

I thought a lot about that conversation last night after I devoured a review copy of Sixkill, Parker’s final novel featuring Spenser, his Boston-based private eye—final because Parker is gone now, found dead at his writing desk in January of 2010.

He was 77 years old when he died; but when I met him he was 52, with a round face, a potato nose, slits for eyes, and a boys-regular haircut. He had a soft beer belly, but his chest and arms were hard muscle. I took all of that in as he opened the door of his Cambridge, Mass., condominium, looked me over, and grunted: “Oh my God! It’s the press!”