I've been a Parker Spencer fan since 1987, always happy to see a new Spencer adventure, most which were excellent and some not very good, as Parker fulfilled his contracts for a Spencer book once a year. As the years turned to the 21st Century, and Spencer got just too old, the books seemed less plausible and too quickly written.
This one is marketed as a YA book but I can't see how a teen could pick this up and know what is really happening, the creation of boy to man, without having read many previous Spencer books, or even seen the TV series or A&E movies. This is more a book for hardcore Spencer fans to get a kick out of a young Spencer tale, the way Hollywood gives us Young Indiana Jones or young Sherlock Holmes.
In Parker usual spare, Hemingway-esque prose, he uses a badly-chosen frame: it opens with Spencer and Susan sitting on a park bench talking about his childhood experiences that made Spencer a manly, moral private eye. The chapters jump back and forth from present to pas, which is jarring and just bad storytelling. Any editor would have told the writer to take out the present stuff; but the publisher knows that Parker books will sell no matter what.
This would have been a better story if Parker had just kept to the young Spencer details, and maybe introduced Susan at the end, that it was all him telling her this.
Still, this is a good read, and a fast one -- the book is barely 25,000 words long. It contains all the heroic, moral elements of any Spencer PI yarn: coming to the gallant aid of women in distress, fighting social injustice, fighting racial inequality.
First, a very young Spencer gets bullied by some drunks so his father and brothers go kick their asses and then teach Spencer how to box (Spencer later becomes a pro boxer in the early books) and defend himself. Spencer has no mother, she died before he could remember her; he's being raised by his tough guy no nonsense dad and his mother's two brothers, his uncles, also tough guys.
At fourteen, Spencer befriends a girl, Jeannie, who has alcoholic parents -- her mother is a floozy and her dad is hunter/drinker/crazy guy who steals Jeannine over custody issues. Kidnaps her. Beats her. There's a hint of some molestation too, but like Hemingway, it's between the lines.
Spencer decides to rescue her and winds up killing the drunk father in a woods battle. Like many Spencer books, the moral justice outweighs the crime and Spencer never gets charged for murder (in other books, Spencer sometimes does kill people so the better of society).
Next, Spencer comes to the aid of a young Hispanic kid who is getting beaten up by racist kids. Jeanine tells the kid Spencer will help -- thus, Spencer is "hired" as a bodyguard problem solver as he later is as an adult.
I had fun reading this, despite the structure flaws, only because I'm a Spencer fan.
I'm saddened that Parker died not too long after this book hit the streets.