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!”