By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated January 20, 2010 at 08:05 PM EST

The sudden death Jan. 18 of crime-genre master Robert B. Parker caught everyone by surprise, including Helen Brann, his agent of 37 years. “It was a complete shock to all of us,” Brann told EW. “His wife, Joan, had breakfast with him [Monday] morning, went out for her walk, came back an hour later, and he was sitting at his writing desk, dead.”

According to Brann, Parker was 30-40 pages into a new novel featuring Spenser, his iconic Boston-based PI, when he suffered what appears to be a fatal heart attack. However, due to his notorious prolific writing habit, there is substantial Parker material still to be published. According to Chris Pepe, his longtime editor at Putnam, there are two books set for release early this year (Split Image, a mystery featuring Jesse Stone, will be out next month, while Blue-Eyed Devil, a Western, hits bookstores later this spring) as well as a couple more in the pipeline. Brann says the author’s tremendous productivity was due to his strict, Updikean writing rate of five pages a day.

“Anybody that has that kind of output, some books are better than others,” she admits. “They weren’t all at the peak of his form, but many were. And at his peak form, he couldn’t be beat. If there’s any justice in the world, he’s got to be up there with the best. With Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald, and all them.”

But it wasn’t just his command of the genre that made him such an important figure. His influence helped birth an entire new generation of novelists. “Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly are just two people who I see must have gotten something from him,” says Pepe. “I honestly just don’t see how there’s a working crime writer today who hasn’t learned something from Robert Parker.”