Robert B. Parker
It's becoming abundantly clear that gifted Mr. Parker is no longer interested in devising mysteries or even much action/adventure for Boston's macho-sensitive shamus Spenser. Indeed, the three Spenser-novel elements--mystery, comedy, sentiment (i.e. what is a real man?)--have been shifting their proportions around dramatically of late, and this time it's 75% sentiment, 25% comedy. . . and just about zilch in the detection department. Still, Parker is sincere and skillful enough to make his rather smug scenario here--an alienated teenage boy's coming-of-age, thanks to Spenser's sterling tutelage--intermittently heartwarming. The boy is shrugging, sluggish, TV-addicted Paul Giacomon, 15-year-old victim of the post-divorce hostilities between his shady-dealing father and his sex-hungry mother. Originally hired to rescue and then protect kidnapped Paul from the father (who doesn't really want the kid), Spenser is soon convinced that both parents "are shit," with no interest in the boy; and so begins Paul's "early autumn"--a crash course, up in the Maine wilderness, in how to be "autonomous." Bodybuilding, reading (no TV), music, how to make choices, how to dress, what to eat: soon Paul is improving terrifically (though Spenser's lady Susan is hostile to the whole project at first). And when Paul's parents object to what has now become a virtual kidnapping, Spenser gets the goods on them (Dad's insurance seams, Mom's promiscuity) and blackmails them into leaving the kid alone and paying for his schooling. So, finally, Paul is really on his own--sturdy enough to get interested in ballet and go off to a ritzy prep school. True, the kidnaps and the insurance-seam investigation do involve a bit of sleuthing and violence. Otherwise, however, this is basically a father-substitute-and-son concoction that's closer to Kramer vs. Kramer than The Maltese Falcon--disappointing for mystery lovers, nice enough (with a fair number of well-earned laughs along the way) for those tolerant of Parker's particular brand of tough-guy treacle.