Robert B. Parker’s Early Autumn was a compelling early Spenser novel that helped move the series smoothly into the ‘80s.

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The plot was fairly straightforward. Spenser was hired to look after neglected teen Paul Giacomin who had become nothing more than a bargaining chip in his terrible parents’ divorce war. Spenser found a way to extricate Paul from his dead end life and put him on the path to becoming an actual person.

The way that Parker embroidered that basic premise was one of the keys to Early Autumn’s narrative strength. Paul’s mother was a “me decade” train wreck. His father was a bit of a mook with some nasty connections. That set up some decent action sequences, including a memorable clash that had Spenser and his ally Hawk making short work of some goons on a busy Boston bridge and a couple of well-done tense stand-offs. The set-up also provided an opportunity to show Spenser engaged in the actual process of detection, as he lined up the leverage necessary to secure Paul’s future.

Early Autumn was one of the more character-driven Spenser novels. Casting Spenser in the novel role of mentor gave Parker the opportunity to dig into his code and morality. The strain of Paul’s situation on Spenser’s relationship with Susan Silverman also allowed Parker to explore the depths of that well-constructed romance. Susan had some less-than-saintly at moments, but the complex bond she and Spenser shared was vividly etched. Hawk remained a great wild card. And Paul developed into an interesting new addition to Spenser’s world.

As always, one of the most interesting parts of any Spenser novel was Parker’s measurement of the evolution of the city. Early Autumn captured Boston at the dawn of a strong urban renewal push that would revitalize many neglected neighborhoods. Spenser’s Marlborough Street apartment might have been considered “marginal” in the ’70s, but by the early ’80s was already on the verge of a strong comeback (and would be extremely valuable in the present market). Parker captured a vivid snapshot of the Boston of that moment, with many landmarks that have since faded. As was usual, Parker worked many real places (restaurants, stores, hotels) into the narrative, providing a grounding of time and place that enhanced the story’s authenticity.

After its often-didactic predecessor Looking for Rachel Wallace had seemed more interested in Making A Point than telling a story, the character-focused Early Autumn was a welcome relief. If you’re not reading the series in order, this one is worth moving up the list.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on October 20, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting