Early Autumn  
200px-Early Autumn
Series Spenser
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date 1980
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-440-02248-7
Preceded by Looking for Rachel Wallace
Followed by A Savage Place

Cover Information Edit

"For David Parker and Daniel Parker, with the respect and admiration of their father, who grew up with them."

Taken from the back of the paperback edition

"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."

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • This is our first meeting with Paul Giacomin, who is the fifteen-year-old boy Spenser is trying to save. At first he is a whiny little brat, but Spenser's influences quickly take hold. By the end of the story Paul is his own man and fast approaching adulthood. You might also say that Paul is Spenser's protégé, since Spenser teaches him how to lift, fight, cook, in short, everything Spenser does himself.
  • Susan shows up here, but she is mainly displaced by Spenser's relationship with Paul (well, perhaps not displaced in THAT sense, but Spenser spends all of his time helping Paul, and only sees Susan when he needs some help). This puts a bit of a strain on their relationship, but it survives intact.

We also meet Patty Giacomin, Paul's mother, for the first time. We'll see her again in Pastime.

  • Spenser briefly mentions the dark-haired art director across the street from his office. We'll see more of her in the novels to come.
  • Hawk shows up here and there, mostly to help keep Spenser and Paul alive.

Unanswered QuestionsEdit

  • So which school did Paul end up going to? He didn't go to Grafton.

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

  • The significance of the title: My guess is that the seasons of a year can be thought of as a metaphor for a person's life, with the spring signifying his birth and youth, summer adolescence and young adulthood, autumn adulthood and middle age, and winter elder years and death. In this case, the person is Paul. Because of the way his parents are, he is being forced to grow up early. Susan remarks that "spring is over for Paul" and Spenser counters with "for Paul, autumn has come early." With Paul growing up fast, he has indeed reached an Early Autumn. Well, that's my best guess. Anyone else care to try? [From Bob Ames:] It's the title of an old song by Johnny Mercer. Mike put the clues together pretty well, really. See Lyrics

Chapter 1:

  • "I would gather stars out of the blue" - "I'll make a string of pearls out of the dew." From the song For You, words by Al Dubin, music by Joe Burke, first popularized by Glenn Grey and the Casaloma orchestra in 1933. We can safely assume that Spenser is not referring to the version done in the mid 60's by Ricky Nelson. See Lyrics

Chapter 3:

  • "Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary" - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes [1894], The Crooked Man: "'Excellent!' I [Watson] cried. 'Elementary,' said he [Holmes]."

Chapter 4:

  • "There's no such thing as a bad boy." - See Oft Quoted
  • "Like the man said, because I can't sing or dance." - From the film Rocky starring Sylvester Stallone, 1976. Adrienne: "Why do you fight?" Rocky: "Because I can't sing or dance."

Chapter 8:

  • "...somewhere the voice of the turtle was probably being heard." - Song of Solomon 2:12: "The flowers appear on the earth; the time of pruning has come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land." Early English translations of the Bible got it wrong; it should read "turtledove," which makes a lot more sense.

Chapter 9:

  • "A man's gotta do what he's gotta do, boy" - I'm not sure, but was this from Gunsmoke or Rawhide or one of those western shows in the sixties? John Wayne?

Chapter 10:

  • "I felt like a nightingale without a song to sing." - A line from It Might as Well be Spring by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. See Lyrics

Chapter 13:

  • "Love me, love my problem." - Hisao Tomihari points out that this is a variation on the proverb "love me, love my dog." The Dictionary of American Slang states that it "means that if you really love someone, you will have to accept everything about them." The source usually cited is John Heywood in Proverbes (1546) Part ii. Chap. ix but it was in use long before that. St. Bernard quoted it in Sermo Primus (1150 A.D.). "Qui me amat, amet et canem meum" (Who loves me will love my dog also). Iain Campbell, my consultant on Latin phrases, added the following: The translation is close. "amet" is a subjective (kind of like an indirect 3rd person imperative) so strictly: "Whoso loves me, let him love my dog also" i.e. it is an injunction to the "lover" to love the dog, not a statement that he does.
  • "He ain't heavy, he's my brother": Morgan Meston writes: "I have no references at hand to prove it, but I believe this statement is attributed to a child at Boys Town. It may be folklore." Yes indeed, Morgan is correct. For the full story, see Oft Quoted

Chapter 14:

  • "You ain't seen nothing yet." - Although this is a commonly used phrase Hisao Tomihari notes that it probably comes from Al Jolson's line "you ain't heard nothing yet." It is justly famous, being Al's first spoken words in one of the first ever talking pictures, The Jazz Singer (1927) and one he used throughout his career.

"It's better to deal with possibility than likelihood." - Hisao points out that this is yet another reference to General Carl Von Causewitz. See Oft Quoted Chapter 15:

  • Ozymandias - a poem by Percy Blythe Shelley, about a marker proclaiming the wondrous work of a long-dead front of a pile of ruins. See Poetry

Chapter 17:

  • "What an unlovely little bastard." - Brian J. Meyers thought it might have been from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Nope, I read through it and it's not there. Nor is it in David Copperfield, but that's as far as I'll go on that line of research. In the McNally novels by Lawrence Sanders, Archie's father is plowing through everything Dickens wrote, but he is obviously a better man than I. I'll read A Christmas Carol once a year, but that's it.

Chapter 18:

  • "Only when love and need are one" - See Oft Quoted and Poetry (Two Tramps in Mud Time)

Chapter 22:

  • "Ever will thou love and she be fair" - John Keats, Poems [1820], Ode on a Grecian Urn, stanza 2: "Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!" See Poetry

Chapter 23:

  • "Captains Courageous" - Iain Campbell caught this. A book by Rudyard Kipling about a spoiled rich kid who falls off a yacht and is rescued by fishermen. Through them he learns about the rewards of hard work and genuine friendship. And the fun thing is that the 1937 movie version starred "Spencer" Tracy.
  • "The Total Woman." - a book by Marabel Morgan, 1973.
  • "Mr. Chips" - Susan is referring to Goodbye Mr. Chips, a 1939 movie about a teacher at an English boy's school. Robert Donat starred in what has been called "one of filmdom's most heartwarming roles." Dennis Tallet chided me for originally typing "Robert Duvall" above. Where was my mind, and why is Dr. Freud lighting up another cigar?

Chapter 26:

Chapter 27:

  • "Bare ruin[e]d choirs where late the sweet birds sang" - See Oft Quoted and Poetry (Sonnet 73)
  • "Put them together and what have you got? Bibbity-bobbity-boo" - Walt Disney, Cinderella. See Lyrics

Chapter 30:

  • "I could not love thee, dear, so much, [/] lov[e]d I not honor more" - Richard Lovelace, Lucasta, [1649]. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars, stanza 3.

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 1: Better neighbors?

"I was half a block from Brooks Brothers and right over a bank. I felt right at home. In the bank they did the same kind of stuff the fortune teller and the bookie had done. But they dressed better."

Chapter 1: Is she considering the merits of catch and release?

"'Gentleman of the same name used to be a hockey player.'
'Oh, I'm afraid I don't follow sports much.'
'No shame to it," I said. "Matter of not being raised properly. Not your fault at all.'
She smiled again, although this time it was a little unsure, as if now that she had me she wasn't certain she wanted me. It's a look I've seen a lot."

Chapter 2: What exactly does rancid lard sound like?

"I turned on the radio. A disc jockey with a voice like rancid lard was describing how much he liked the new record by Neil Diamond. Then Neil began to sing his new record. I shut it off."

Chapter 3: Those kinky policemen...

"'I enjoy meeting policemen. Sometimes if you're good they let you play with their handcuffs.'"

Chapter 3: Let your knuckles do the walking

"I said, 'Name's Spenser, with an S, like the poet. I'm in the Boston book.' I stepped through the door and closed it. Then I opened it again and stuck my head back into the hall. 'Under Tough,' I said."

Chapter 6: What wine goes best with peanuts?

"'You owe me for this,' she said. She had barely sipped at a paper cup of beer in one hand. There was a lipstick half moon on the rim.
'They don't sell champagne by the paper cup here,' I said.
'Then how about a Graves?'
'You want me to get beat up,' I said. 'Go up and ask if they sell a saucy little white Bordeaux?'"

Chapter 19: Yeah, but Army chow more resembles a food like substance

"Patty's idea of fancy was to put Cheez Whiz on the broccoli. I didn't mind that. I used to like the food in the army."

Chapter 12: I'll bet he graduated cum laude from the school of hard knocks

"'Try and look like an upwardly mobile nineteen-year-old scientist,' I said.
'I am, bawse. I got a doctor of scuffle degree.'"

Chapter 14: The bare essentials

"'And you plan to teach him.'
'I'll teach him what I know. I know how to do carpentry. I know how to cook. I know how to punch. I know how to act.'
'You're not so bad in the rack either, big fella.'
I grinned. 'We'll let him work that out on his own, maybe.'"

Chapter 19: Primal urges

"As we got into the elevator I said softly to Paul, 'I always have the impulse to whiz in the corner when I come in here. But I never do.'
Paul looked startled.
'I got too much class,' I said.

Chapter 25: Eloquence. Sheer poetry in motion.

"'And I don't want you sticking your nose into my business. You unnerstand?'
'Understand, Harry. With a D. Un-der-stand. Watch my lips.
Harry's voice got a little shriller. It sounded like chalk on a blackboard.
'Shut your fucking mouth,' he said. And keep your fucking snoop out of my fucking business or I'll fucking bury you right here, right out front here in the fucking yard I'll bury you.'
'Five,' I said. 'Five fuck's in one sentence, Paul. That's colorful. You don't see color like that much anymore.'"

Chapter 28: Debating isn't his strong point...

"'Don't knock it, money's good.'
'Money's not everything, Jack,' I said.
'Maybe not, but you ever try spending sex?'
'There's something wrong with that argument,' I said, 'but I can't think what right now. I may call you later with my comeback.'"


  • Chapter 5:
    • Bourson on a triscuit at Patty's house.
    • Peking ravioli, Duck in Plum sauce, Moshoo pork and white rice at the Yangtze River.
  • Chapter 6:
    • Peanuts at the Celtics game.
    • Cheeseburgers at Susan's.
  • Chapter 7: Steak, baked potato, and peas at Patty's.
  • Chapter 8: Bacon, eggs, and toast at Patty's.
  • Chapter 9: Spenser finally gets a chance to cook while Patty is away.
  • Chapter 10: Spenser makes a potato and onion omelet. He winds up throwing it away.
  • Chapter 13: An unexpected supper for five at Susan's. BLTs made with Williamsburg bacon, on toasted bread, served with bread and butter pickles they made the previous fall.
  • Chapter 15: Steak and beans, rye bread, pickles at the cabin.
  • Chapter 16: Cornbread, strawberry jam, fresh fruit for breakfast at the cabin.
  • Chapter 17: Feta cheese, syrian bread, pickles, olives, cherry tomatoes, cucumber wedges for lunch at the cabin.
  • Chapter 19: Beans, rice, chicken mole, cabrito, flour tortillas at Casa Romaro.
  • Chapter 21: Cheddar cheese, Granny Smith apples, Bartlett pears, seedless grapes, pumpernickel bread at the cabin.
  • Chapter 23: Cinnamon donuts at Susan's.
  • Chapter 24: Avacado and cheese sandwich in the Quincy Market.
  • Chapter 26: Spenser sends Paul out for sandwiches while they work at the office. He comes back with turkey on oatmeal and roast beef on rye plus lemon turnovers.
  • Chapter 28: Dunkin' Donuts. Plain. (Paul get Boston cremes for himself. "Disgusting.")
  • Chapter 29: A sub that Susan had bought and saved for him at his apartment.


  • Chapter 5:
    • Schlitz at Patty's
    • Beck's at the Yangtze River.
  • Chapter 6:
    • Beer at the Celtics game.
    • Beaujolais at Susan's.
  • Chapter 7: Beer, then Portuguese rose with dinner.
  • Chapter 9: Schlitz at Patty's.
  • Chapter 13: Beck's at Susan's. Hawk bought it for him along with champagne for himself. "No sense wasting the champagne on you...You born beer, you gonna die beer."
  • Chapter 17: Beer with lunch at the cabin.
  • Chapter 18: Beer at the cabin. From what he says I assume all of the beers up here will be Heineken in cans.
  • Chapter 19: Carta Blanca beers at Casa Romero.
  • Chapter 21: Beer at the cabin.
  • Chapter 22: Beer again at the cabin.
  • Chapter 24: Draft beer in a bar off City Square.
  • Chapter 29: Beer with his sub at home.
  • Chapter 33: Moet & Chandon to celebrate finishing the outside of the house.


  • Typo alert: Thom Brannan sent the following: In Chapter 8, Spenser is talking to Patty Giacomin, and she's saying something about men and power and money, and Spenser shrugs, then thinks to himself "I was beginning to see where Patty had picked up the habit." But Patty doesn't shrug, not once in the book so far. Paul is it a typo? Is it just in my book? After further correspondence it was established that Thom had a third edition of the hardcover published in 1987. I myself have a 17th printing of the paperback but it's a bit suspicious. The last two words on that line are "Paul had" which appear in a slightly different typeface from the rest of the page. It looks like it was a fairly late change; can anyone else narrow it down?
  • Show me the money: He actually does collect from Patty for a while, until he refuses to give back Paul and she fires him.

Previous book: Looking for Rachel Wallace • Next book: A Savage Place