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. 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.
Except it turns out that, as the paperback blurb for Early Autumn says, "Spenser's most personal case begins here..." You'd be right and wrong. 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.
It's been a while since I read Early Autumn (I've read it several times over the years.) so I think I'll use the summary from the Dell paperback - it's a good one: 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 kid. He is merely a pawn in their divorce wars. The boy, Paul Giacomin, is withdrawn and uncommunicative, a geek in the worse sense of the word - a boy who, at fifteen, seems destined to be cast aside by life.
Spenser, against his self-centered girlfriend Susan Silverman's wishes, decides to do something about Paul before it's too late. (And by the way, this is one of the books that 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.) It's 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 and enlightening. In a way that's hard to define, this 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 really holds your interest until it winds its way to a finale that 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 capabilities.
It's hard not to love this book (and Spenser) and I recommend it even if you are not a serious fan of the mystery/thriller persuasion.