Robert B. Parker was at the top of his game in his early books. Early Autumn was the 7th in the Spenser series and remains one of his best.
Spenser is hired by the mother of 15 year Paul Giacomin to find her son who has been kidnapped by the father. More out of spite than love. In truth, neither parent wants the teen. The boy seems disinterested in life; he does nothing except look at TV. When asked a question he shrugs. With uncaring parents, Spenser determines that if the boy is to survive in life, he needs to become autonomous: independent, learn how to do things for himself.
Spenser takes the young teen up into the woods of Maine, staying at a cabin owned by Susan Silverman, Spenser’s lady. Here Spenser teaches Paul structure, and how to work with his hands. Spenser tells him he needs to finish what he starts and learn what he is good at doing. It doesn’t matter what you do; you just have to have something in your life that is you.
Spenser meanwhile digs up dirt on the parents. The father is involved with mob figures; the mother sleeps around with men and now has a boyfriend who’d doesn’t want the kid around.
This not the typical Spenser crime novel, though Hawk makes an appearance and when Hawks around people die. And there are plenty of the smart-aleck remarks as you expect from our hero. Still, the story is more about Spenser mentoring the teen boy; teaching him to be self-sufficient, learn to live on his own and wanting something for himself in life. As usual, there are vivid descriptions of New England.