What we have here are two entirely different looks at Spenser. On one hand we have the witty and sarcastic—you have one chance and then I kill you—Spencer we have all come to love. And on the other, the rarely, if ever seen, I’m going to do this telling as few jokes as possible and believe it or not, I’m not going to kill anyone while I’m at it.
In the Judas Goat, Spenser is hired by a wealthy paraplegic man. During an indiscriminate terrorist attack in London, the client has lost not only the use of his legs; he’s lost his entire family. He wants vengeance. Through justice or by death, he has no preference. Spenser is just the man for the job.
In Early Autumn, Spenser is pulled into a child custody battle involving a 15 year old boy named Paul Giacomin. Paul is a somewhat pathetic teenager, but instinctively, Spenser knows there’s more to it. Spenser quickly establishes that the parents are unfit and that they are likely up to no good.
Hawk is a much rougher character in these early novels and is yet to develop the polish he will aspire to in later books. Whereas Spenser changes little over the years, Hawk evolves in many ways. At the time of these books Hawk also has an annoying habit of calling Spenser babe. Perhaps it is the friendship he develops with Susan Silverman that eventually civilizes him.
This book is definitely a change of pace from Spenser’s usual arsenal of motifs. Spenser shows a different kind of heart. Even his concern for his relationship with Susan Silverman is put on the backburner, while he looks after Paul, which as far as I know is a first.
While some people call this one of the better books in the Spenser series, for me, while it does hold a certain merit, it’s not necessarily what I come to Spenser for. I like Spenser because he is a funny, witty smartass that walks the penumbra between right and wrong. In this book he abandons his usual Jokes are the essence of my luster for the sake of a teenage boy he seems to relate to.
Spenser takes up the mantle to show Paul the ropes and to teach him to have self confidence and to become autonomous, in a reflection of Spenser’s own self. Another departure is that this is probably the only book I have read where Spenser does no killing. Hawk kills one villain near the very end during one of his only brief appearances, but there is very little violence acted upon in these pages.
Both of these books are quick reads and if you’re thinking of checking Spenser out for the first time, either of these are a great place to have a first look.