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Florida mystery novelist Barbara Parker dies; known for ‘Suspicion' series

Oline H. Cogdill
Sun Sentinel (MCT)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Barbara Parker started writing an adventure story as a way to amuse her young son and as a break from her career as an attorney. Instead, Parker found a new calling, giving up her law practice to eventually write 12 mystery novels.

Parker, 62, of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, died Saturday morning after a long illness, surrounded by her family at the Hospice By The Sea in Boca Raton.

Her master's thesis for Florida International University became her first suspense novel, "Suspicion of Innocence," and was also a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first mystery novel by an American author. The novel was made into an ABC Movie of the Week titled "Sisters and Other Strangers."

Most of her novels were in her "Suspicion" series about Miami lawyers Gail Connor and Anthony Quintana. The series, Parker often said, was a way of illustrating the changing landscape of South Florida, contrasting long-time Miami residents with the influence of Cuban-Americans. At least two of Parker's novels landed on the New York Times Best-Sellers List.

"Barbara was one of my first great students," said Les Standiford, director of the creative writing program at FIU. "She was inspiring. She became a wonderful writer. I have always viewed her as a wonderful ambassador for the creating writing program. We are proud to claim her as one of ours."

Born in Columbia, S.C., Parker moved with her family to western North Carolina, where she grew up. The family moved to Florida, and Parker graduated from the University of South Florida before attending law school at the University of Miami. She worked as a prosecutor in the state attorney's office, then eight years as a sole practitioner.

"So that she could write and support her kids, she quit her law practice and took a job as a paralegal in a downtown law firm," said her sister, Laura Parker of Fort Lauderdale. "She (didn't tell them she was) a lawyer so that she could just concentrate on her writing. She lived on fumes and developed characters and plots on long bus rides from her apartment near Dadeland to downtown Miami."

As an author, Parker was known as a meticulous researcher, hanging out with fashion models, ballet dancers, rock bands and cops. As a journalist and author, Parker visited Cuba three times and fervently opposed the Castro regime.

She supported the Independent Library Association in Cuba. "The second time Barbara was in Cuba, she visited poet Ramon Colas and Berta Mexidor who opened up their home library in Havana as the start of an 'independent library' movement," said her sister, Laura.

"Barbara brought in several books to augment their collection of less than 50 books."

Parker also earned respect among her colleagues in the mystery community.

"Barbara was a unifying figure to the writing community," said Mitch Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla. "The general public knows her as someone who can tell wonderful stories. But so many of us know her personally because of her generosity and supportive nature. She was instrumental in profiling the community here through her books. She always made her events personal so you got a sense that you knew her."

Parker often gave writing workshops at libraries and mystery conferences. She also had begun her fourth year on the national board of the Mystery Writers of America and was the chairwoman of its membership committee for two years. She also was a guest author aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 on a voyage from Sydney, Australia, to Hong Kong.

Parker is survived by her daughter, Andrea Lane Prather, and son-in-law, Tim Prather, of Hollywood; son, James Lane of New York City; sister Laura Parker of Fort Lauderdale; brother Ray Parker and sister-in-law Diane Parker of Raleigh, N.C.; and nephew Nicholas Winder and his wife, Andrea, of Miami.

In lieu of flowers, the family prefers donations to help writers. Donations can be sent to the Author Sponsorship Fund, Mystery Writers of America, 1140 Broadway, New York, NY 10001.

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