Robert B. Parker

Early Autumn

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Early Autumn Summary

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Early Autumn is a detective novel by American author Robert B. Parker. The seventh novel in his main crime series, it follows a detective who goes merely by “Spenser,” as he tries to protect a mother and child, Patty and Paul Giacomin, during a custody dispute with Paul’s father, Mel. Spenser decides to become Paul’s guardian when Paul reveals his mother’s track record of negligent parenting and her intent to exaggerate her love for Paul to obtain a favorable outcome in the legal dispute. Spenser finds himself embroiled in a race to protect Paul’s long-term best interests without informing his parents and sabotaging his own case. The novel casts Spenser as a rogue detective figure who must make his own legally ambiguous, yet morally justified choices in order to best perform his duty as a detective.

The novel begins at Spenser’s new office at the corner of Berkley and Boylston. It picks up just after his eviction from his previous building along with a fortuneteller and a bookmaker, allegedly due to poor decorum. The new office is right above a bank where, Spenser ironically notes, the employees perform roles similar to theirs, but dress fancier. A middle-aged woman, Patty Giacomin, enters the office, asking Spenser to work on her custody battle with her ex-husband, Mel, over their son, Paul. She claims that the police do not care about her case because Paul is fifteen, but stresses that Paul has been virtually kidnapped by his father.

Spenser tracks down Mel’s girlfriend, Elaine Brooks, who tells him the location of Mel’s new house. There, he finds Paul; he is surprised when Paul tells him that he does not care about the custody outcome, because his parents are both terrible. Spenser retrieves Paul and takes him to Patty. All seems well for several months, until Patty places a call to Spenser panicking that Mel appeared and tried to kidnap Paul. Spenser decides to temporarily stay with Paul and Patty to protect Paul from further kidnap attempts. Though Mel’s next two attempts fail, Spenser begins to accept that Paul is merely a pawn in the parents’ endless game to get revenge on each other.

Patty proposes that Paul join Spenser to hide out on a small plot of land owned by Spenser’s friend, Susan Silverman, just outside Fryeburg, Maine. Spenser accepts; in the following weeks, he and Paul form a strong friendship. Spenser teaches Paul how to box and lift weights. Together, they construct a small cottage on Susan’s land. Spenser feels deep sympathy for Paul’s predicament and respect for his resilience. He encourages him to become an independent young man. Under Spenser’s tutelage, Paul’s resolve and self-esteem rapidly improve.

When the duo returns from Maine, Spenser helps Paul fend off a criminal, Harry Cotton, whom Mel recruited to help orchestrate a successful kidnapping. Then, Patty reaches out and declares that she wants to transfer Paul’s custody to Mel. Paul adamantly declines, realizing that he might find a permanent way out of his toxic relationships with his parents. Spenser and Paul work to build a case that Mel and Patty are unfit to be his guardians. Paul has no idea who his new guardian might be but hopes merely to gain freedom from his parents.

After a lot of digging, Paul and Spenser uncover evidence that Mel has been earning money illegally from insurance fraud. Spenser uses his records of Mel’s criminal activity to coerce him into paying for Paul’s tuition and fees for an expensive liberal arts college, where Paul can follow his true passion to train as a professional dancer. The duo also learns that Patty has been visiting New York each month to stay at cheap hotels, where she abuses alcohol and engages in anonymous sex with strangers. They approach Patty with this evidence, and she, too, concedes to leave Paul alone. Paul coerces both of his parents to help fund his new, independent life.

Having grown together, Paul and Spenser consider the future of their relationship. They mutually agree that Paul is close enough to adulthood that he need not depend on Spenser, or anyone else, for guardianship. Spenser expresses his respect for Paul and apologizes on behalf of Paul’s parents for making him mature so early. Paul replies that he is nearly sixteen, and thinks he has reached the right level of maturity for his age. Spenser and Susan decide to jointly take care of Paul until he reaches legal adulthood.

Early Autumn starts with a custody situation that fails to work in the best interests of Paul, showing how legal arrangements often fail to protect the most vulnerable. Ultimately, with the help of Spenser, who acts both within and without the law, Paul is able to live in a new and more moral arrangement.