Stories

“Early Autumn” by Robert B. Parker: A Great Late Summer Book

Looking to read a good book before fall arrives? Perhaps one that’s easy to read, but has some substance and emotion?

Check out Early Autumn (1981) by the late Robert B. Parker, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Apple book store.

Early Autumn is the seventh novel in Parker’s series of best-selling novels about Spenser, a Boston private investigator. The plot of the Spenser novels are, for the most part, standard detective stories. Spenser is hired to do something that the police are unable or unwilling to do. He may be asked to solve a murder or to determine if a spouse is unfaithful. He may need to protect someone or to find a missing person or item.

That’s not to say that the Parker’s plots are unimportant, uninteresting or predictable. Frequently, the books end much differently than one would expect.

Yet, the main draw of the books is Parker’s sparse, easy writing style which emphasizes characterization, humor and dialogue. Each novel features witty, sometimes thoughtful conversations that Spenser has with his psychiatrist girlfriend, Susan Silverman; his quasi-criminal best friend, Hawk; or his police buddies, Martin Quirk and Frank Belsen.

Parker also provided Spenser with an interesting personality and insights. Spenser is a man’s man. He’s an Army veteran, an ex-boxer, and ex-cop. He isn’t afraid of using his fists or his gun with each book featuring at least two or more action scenes. They also contain scenes where Spenser cooks, reads, and quotes literary figures like Keats, Faulkner and Frost.

The Spenser novels make for quick reading, but at the same time, often cover deeper themes than your average detective novel.

Early Autumn, one of the best books in the Spenser series, is the perfect example.

In Early Autumn, Spenser is hired to protect a woman and her son, Paul, from her ex-husband. Spenser quickly learns that Paul is the only one in need of protection and from both parents. Neither really wants Paul; they just want him away from their ex. Due to his parents’ neglect, Paul is an apathetic, ungrateful fourteen year old with no direction or real interest in life.

After two attempts to kidnap Paul, Spenser takes him to a remote cabin, where he teaches him to grow up. The core of Early Autumn is Spenser’s interactions with Paul where Paul learns what it means to be an adult.

Spenser instructs Paul on how to box, exercise and build a new cabin. He teaches Paul these things, not because men must know them to be men. Rather, they are what Spenser knows; they are what he can teach him. Spenser also shows him how to cook and introduces him to literature, baseball, and poetry. When Paul expresses a desire to learn ballet and dance, Spenser encourages Paul by taking him to performances and exploring dance schools.

When Paul’s mom arrives at the cabin to take Paul back (she apparently has reached an agreement with Paul’s father), Spenser refuses. Spenser knows that she can’t help Paul; she and her ex can only hurt him.

Spenser is faced with a dilemma. He won’t give Paul back to his parents, but he can’t raise Paul. Spenser must figure out a way for Paul to grow up, away from his parents and help himself.

Whether Spenser will succeed is never in any doubt, although how he succeeds is. Before Early Autumn ends, there is blackmail and murder, in ways that may be surprising. Yet, Spenser does succeed with a touching final chapter where he and a much different Paul say good-bye to summer.

***

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