Review: Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker

Early Autumn was nominated for the 1982 Shamus Award which was the first year in which they were awarded. In that year the Shamus was won by Hoodwink by Bill Pronzini. The book is part of the long-running and very popular Spenser series, in fact it's the 7th book in the series. Spenser is a smart-mouthed PI based in Boston who regularly takes on cases that somehow become moral crusades. His life is regularly in danger and is prone to calling on the considerable help of his erstwhile sidekick Hawk.

Book Details

Title: Early Autumn
Author: Robert B. Parker
Pages: 224
Published Date: 1981
Publisher: Penguin Books
Series Details: 7th book in the Spenser series

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Publisher's Synopsis

A bitter divorce is only the beginning. First the father hires thugs to kidnap his son. Then the mother hires Spenser to get the boy back. But as soon as Spenser senses the lay of the land, he decides to do some kidnapping of his own.

With a contract out on his life, he heads for the Maine woods, determined to give a puny 15 year old a crash course in survival and to beat his dangerous opponents at their own brutal game.

Review of Early Autumn

This is the 7th book featuring Spenser, the Boston-based private investigator who has progressed from a fearless hardman with a slightly questionable moral compass to someone who is far more responsible.

In Early Autumn, Spenser is hired by Patty Giacomin to get her son back from her husband as part of a bitter and nasty divorce proceeding. The 15 year old boy, named Paul, is largely ignored by both parents and appears to be used merely as an object in a sad game of keep-away.

Spenser finds himself acting as Paul’s babysitter as the unhappy couple fight out the terms over who gets custody. In doing so, he slowly becomes mentor to the boy who, up until this point, did little more than sit in front of a television. He teaches him some valuable life lessons, to which Paul begins to respond positively and slowly regains some confidence and self-respect.

When it comes time to return Paul to his parents, though, the story takes a slightly bizarre twist and Spenser refuses, skirting the line of kidnapping rather perilously closely.

Be that as it may, the display of compassion and determination to do the right thing by the boy from Spenser is certainly the notable strong point of the book and it is this that makes it stand out from the surrounding books in the series. 

As well as steering a young man onto a more positive path, Spenser also finds himself up to his eyeballs in the usual array of difficulties. As well as the custodial dispute he fights off the occasional attack by small-time thugs and becomes embroiled in a more serious dispute with a big-time gangster. It is at this point that the ever-ready and able assistance is sought and received from Hawk.

Early Autumn features all of the usual fare you might come to expect from a Spenser mystery. The smart-arsed remarks by Spenser that has become standard when he deals with his clients, the somewhat jarring relationship with Susan Silverman (never been a fan, never will be) and the high-octane action sequences that build once Hawk has been called into the action.

The way in which Spenser handles the delicate situation with Paul, not to mention the way he mentors him and shows sensible decency when it comes to dealing with his hopes and dreams helps this to stand out. It is a positive sign that there is a greater depth to the detective and promises that the later books will be well worth reading.

Being part of an ongoing series, the reader will probably get the most out of the story if they have read some of the earlier books in the series. However, this will largely serve to give a greater understanding of the depth of the relationships between the main series characters and will not detract from the story if it is read as a stand-alone novel.

Other Reviews

Reviewed at: The Mystery Bookshelf

"Some critics think that Early Autumn marks Parker’s best Spencer novel, but after finally reading it, I completely disagree. Spencer basically adopts a teenaged boy, whose father and mother are divorced and don’t want him... - Read Full Review

Reviewed at: In So Many Words

"From this beginning, you know what you're in for. A kind of hip, wise-ass detective story where a client sashays into Spenser's office, they trade a few quips and within a few pages you're off and running on another tale of Boston murder and tough guy aphorisms - and you'd be right... - Read Full Review Reviews

At the time of writing there are 366 reviews of Early Autumn posted to the GoodReads website. You can read these reviews by visiting the GoodReads website.

Other Shamus Best PI Novel nominees - 1982