Friday, November 14, 2014

FFB: EARLY AUTUMN (1980) by Robert B. Parker


This is a readjustment of a post from November, 2010. I thought it was time to talk about my favorite Robert Parker book once again. 

EARLY AUTUMN is an early Spenser book by Parker (the seventh in the series), published in 1980. It is also my favorite. Though I've enjoyed most of the Spenser books, this one remains at the top of the heap for me. I'm also extremely fond of its sequel PAST TIME, written several years and many other Spenser adventures later. But that's a talk for another day. Today I'm, once again, sharing my enthusiasm for EARLY AUTUMN and hoping to get you to read it if you haven't.


The urban renewers had struck again. They'd evicted me, a fortune teller, and a bookie from the corner of Mass. Ave. and Boylston, moved in with sandblasters and bleached oak and plant hangers, and last I looked appeared to be turning the place into a Marin County whorehouse. I moved down Boylston Street to the corner of Berkeley, second floor. I was half a block from Brooks Brothers and right over a bank. I felt at home. In the bank they did the same kind of stuff the fortune-teller and the bookie had done. But they dressed better.

From this beginning, you know what you're in for. The 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.

Except it turns out that, as the paperback blurb for Early Autumn says, "Spenser's most personal case begins here..." Oh, the case starts out with a dishy blonde hiring Spenser to do a job - no problem, but then the job turns into something Spenser and possibly, the reader, could never have anticipated.

I like this summary from my Dell paperback: 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 fifteen-year-old a crash course in survival and to beat his dangerous opponents at their own brutal game.

The lay of the land is this: Neither the mother nor the father have any time or affection for this unhappy kid. He is merely a pawn in their divorce battles. The boy, Paul Giacomin, is withdrawn and uncommunicative, a geek in the worse sense of the word - a boy who, at fifteen, seems destined to be cast aside by life.

Against his self-centered girlfriend (and you know how we don't like her even one little bit) Susan Silverman's wishes, Spenser decides to do something about Paul before it's too late. (And by the way, this is one of the Spenser books which shows us why very few people like the character of Susan Silverman and only put up with her because Spenser, for whatever reason, loves her.) Her behavior is kind of odd really because Susan is a psychologist, you'd think someone in that profession would be eager to help a kid in obvious trouble. But I digress...

The point is: Spenser steps in and saves the day. But it's how he actually goes about it that makes this book so damned entertaining, enlightening and even moving. In a way that's hard to define, EARLY AUTUMN is more than a mere detective story, it's a primer on how to turn a troubled teenager into a good and reasonable young man.

Of course, there's violence and brutality and a murder or two, but this is to be expected in a Spenser tale. It's the other story going on, the saving of Paul Giacomin that makes this book so special. This is a book to be read in one evening if you like since it's the sort of thing that's hard to put down until the finale which is both satisfying and brilliantly realized.

In certain ways, (I'm sure you'll recognize what I mean) it wouldn't hurt for any adult with a teenage boy in his or her life, to read Early Autumn and perhaps learn a thing or two from, yes, an action-filled private eye book in a genre not known for its child-rearing wisdom.

It's hard not to love this book (and Spenser) and I recommend it even if you are still not a serious fan of the mystery/thriller persuasion.

Robert B. Parker's Fantastic Fiction page has all the titles of all the books in all the series.

And since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today.

31 comments:

  1. I too love Spenser. Just not the first book. I think I am alone in that as it goes on many best lists :-)

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    1. I'm not keen on the first book either, Gram. In fact I hardly remember it except that I've never had the notion to reread it. There are also those books when S.S. left Spenser and moved in with some guy in who knows where but it wasn't Boston. What an idiot. Jeez, I can't stand the woman. Those books I avoid like the plague. :)

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  2. So funny you should choose a Robert B. Parker book for today: Jack and I are in our much-missed Boston right now. We've walked around Beacon Hill where we lived in the 1980s, and last night we had dinner at a restaurant right across from our first apartment together at 833 Beacon Street. Man, has Kenmore Square changed! When we lived there in the 1970s, our apartment had more cockroaches than square feet! Now the place is posh condos. I like the Parker books for all his references to places I know or knew in Boston.

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    1. I don't know Boston, have only ever been there once, at the airport, and out again. But I sure wish I did. Years ago I had a client who lived and worked in a studio right in the middle of Boston - he walked to work every day with his Scottie dog. I used to envy him. :)

      How wonderful, Joan, that you got a chance to revisit your town. We all have a town - right?

      There's another terrific series set in Boston, if you haven't read them yet: The Fred Taylor art mysteries beginning with HARMONY IN FLESH AND BLACK. Highly recommended by yours truly.

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    2. Thanks for reminding me about Nicholas Kilmer. You introduced me to him a while ago, but I've only ever found two of his books. There are three used book stores within a few blocks of where we're staying in Boston, so I'll have another go at them looking for Kilmer books. I've already found two more Phoebe Atwood Taylor Asey Mayo books this trip!

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    3. Kilmer's later books are still available on Amazon last I looked, Joan. Worse comes to worse, I can always lend you my stash.

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    4. Thanks for the offer, but sometimes part of the joy is in the search!

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    5. Know what you mean. Happy hunting!

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  3. EARLY AUTUMN is one of my favorite Parker novels. After this book, the Spenser books grew longer and less interesting.

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    1. I've read them all, George, and while some of them were clunkers, more than a few were excellent. At least to my way of thinking. Including one of his last books: ROUGH WEATHER (2008).

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  4. I recall liking this one a lot, though not as much as the couple that preceded it in the series. Susan didn't bother me as much as she obviously bothers you, perhaps I didn't have your depth perception when turning the pages to see what would happen next. This is a series I've not reread, except one I thought I hadn't read, then realized a third way in I had but finished anyway.

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    1. I reread Spenser from time to time, Richard. His dialogue is so wonderful, I always get a kick out of it. Susan is a pain in the rear. Period. End of discussion. I'll tell you who else gets on my nerves occasionally, Hawk. Especially if you're rereading back to back.

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  5. Yvette, I skimmed through your review as I have this particular title and I was hoping to read it, which would be my first ever by Robert B. Parker.

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    1. Oh this is a great one, Prashant. Don't wait. Read it immediately. You'll enjoy it, I'm sure. :) The first Robert B. Parker is an important one, I think. It will decide if you want to continue. I can't remember my first Spenser. I think maybe it was SMALL VICES, but I'm not sure.

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  6. Yvettte,

    This is strange but I recognize the name of the boy--Paul Giacomin--for some reason. I am not an admirer (sorry) of Parker, although I did enjoy the TV series. Perhaps that's where I many have encountered the name.

    By the way, I also really enjoy the Jesse Stone TV adaptations, but so far have been unable to read more than one of Parker's novels about him. Parker is a popular writer, but I just don't like his novels for some reason.

    I can't remember anything about the context of my contact with the name of PG, but I do vaguely remember thinking at the time that there had to have been some history between the two. Your review suggests that my impression was accurate.

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    1. This is the book that introduces Paul to us. Although he shows up in several books, he is only a minor character later on though still important in Spenser's life. I always reread EARLY AUTUMN and PAST TIME, back to back. Paul shows up in PAST TIME since the book has to do with his awful parents and shows Spenser at his physically and morally heroic best.

      You probably heard the name in one of the shows. I do think it's time for a new series of Spenser. Or maybe a movie. I was just thinking that Ben Affleck - beefed up - would make a good Spenser. Plus he has the accent.

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  7. After reading Sergio's recent review of a Spenser book, I am planning on trying some in the series starting somewhere around the 3rd or 4th book. Since you like this one so much I will be sure to include it. I also want to try the Jesse Stone novels. Have you read any of those?

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    1. I think you'll like this, Tracy. At least, I hope so. :) Also add PAST TIME to the short list.

      Yes, I've read a couple of the Jesse Stone books, but truth to tell I like the television show better. Though I must say that the Jesse Stone book by Michael Brandman 'Robert B. Parker's KILLING THE BLUES' was terrific so I might read a couple more if Brandman continues in the series.

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    2. I have watched all the Jesse Stone movies, Yvette, and plan to rewatch them all some time. Except one my husband really did not like. I will look out for the book by Michael Brandman, but may start with book 1 and 2 in the series...

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    3. Yvette,

      I think Brandman has written three "Jesse Stone" books and now Reed Farrell Coleman has written one. I will read at one by each to see what they are like.

      It appears as though the network (CBS?) that was carrying the Jesse Stone TV adaptations has dropped the series. However, Tom Selleck was reported to have said the series was not dead, and they were going to find someplace else to carry the series.

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    4. I'm not Tom Selleck's biggest fan, I don't like his politics - BUT, he was born to play Jesse Stone. I don't wonder he wants to continue the series. Hopefully it will come to pass. I really do enjoy these. The casting is top notch. I believe Selleck is one of the producers as well and has a hand in the writing.

      I loved Brandman's book. So I'll have to wait and see how Reed Farrell Coleman does - Coleman is a much 'darker' sort of writer.

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    5. Yvette,

      I'm not familiar with Selleck's politics, and since it doesn't show up in the Jesse Stone series, I'm not concerned about them. And from what I gather from the credits for the films, he is one of the executive producers and writers for the show.

      I guess I'll move Brandman's book up in my reading queue and see what happens.

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  8. Hi Yvette - love the early Spenser books and really will re-read this one over Christmas - thanks chum.

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  9. Yvette,

    I also have watched the Jesse Stone series twice and no doubt will watch them again, in a year or so when my memories of them have faded sufficiently.

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    1. An excellent series. But it's probably the demographic thing. No more shows for the likes of us. Everything is now done for the kiddies. (Well, to me, they all seem like kiddies.)

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  10. Yvette,

    Yes, I think I read somewhere some executive thought Selleck was too old for most viewers (or at least the viewers they want).

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    1. Hard to believe their idiotic mind sets. But that's the way of it.

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  11. Oh, gosh, my memory is going or has gone. I read many of the Spenser books years ago, and I think I read this one. I enjoyed them for quite awhile, then the joy fizzled.

    i, too, loved the dialogue in those books, as well as the humor in it.

    I am not as bothered by Susan Silverman as you are, maybe because I know people like her. Living in Manhattan will do that to a person. Lots of personalities.

    I will look for Early Autumn and try a reread. I don't know how you read so much. My pace has slowed down considerably. I did zip through John Grisham's "Gray Mountain" a few weeks ago. I could not put down that one, a horrific expose of Big Coal and the industry's combat against miners receiving Black Lung compensation benefits, even though it's the law. A good book.

    And, yes, Tom Selleck is a good-looking man, but not enough to overcome his bad politics! I agree with you on that. And my likes or dislikes of someone, even an actor, is swayed by their views.

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    1. Well, let us know if you reread EARLY AUTUMN - what you think and all. I do love that book. :)

      Yeah, it's hard sometimes to divest an actor from their politics. I couldn't do it with Charleton Heston in later years and I couldn't do it with Bing Crosby who, as far as I'm concerned, was a terrible human being.

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  12. Awesome - Early Autumn is my fav Spenser book too, for the reason you explain, also. Some of us in our Mystery Book Club have been reading all the Spenser books in order and chatting about them over lunch. Such fun. Of course more fun for us as we live near Boston. We even had two "field trips" to visit spots mentioned in the books and eat in his eateries (so far, Jacob Wirth's near his "first" office and the Taj (formerly the Ritz) restaurant overlooking Newbury St). We would read various passages while standing at various locales of gun fights, meetups, etc etc. Very fun with many laughs.

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