Themes

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As Lord Acton correctly pointed out, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and although the Clives do not have absolute power, they are nonetheless almost totally corrupt. Penny's sisters, SueSue and Stonie, spend their time trying to seduce strangers for fun, and their husbands Pud and Cord, respectively, are equally immoral, Pud being an alcoholic who indulges his sexual appetites with prostitutes and Cord being a pederast. These perversions obviously contrast with the unshakable, long-lasting love shared by Spenser and Susan Silverman, two very different people who fit together like yang and yin. Quoting Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, Spenser points out to Penny, "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds." He is also fond of telling people that his name is spelled like that of the English poet Edmund Spenser. These references to poetry and romance are integral to his character and point up one of the main themes in any Spenser novel: love is stronger than evil. No matter what the intrepid private eye must face in his bloodspattered career, he can always depend on the fact that Susan loves him and he loves her. This is the Rosetta stone behind all the wisecracks, courage, and caring in Spenser's world: it is the one true thing to which he can always return, the proof that everything can really be all right, and the source of much of his legendary personal strength.

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Another familiar theme in Hugger Mugger is that being humane increases, and sometimes even salvages, the humanity in others. After Spenser shows that he values SueSue, Stonie, Pud, and Cord as people, even with all their horrendous faults, they begin to heal and respect themselves and each other. In his first solo encounter with SueSue, she epitomizes the Clive philosophy when she says, "Money makes the world go round, darlin'. And sex makes the trip worthwhile." This is after Spenser has spurned her advances and mentioned his love for Susan. "Love?" SueSue laughs. "Only some big dangerous gun-totin' Yankee would come around talking 'bout love. My God—love!" Yet it is Spenser's inherent love for his fellow human beings that ends up saving the lives of SueSue and Stonie, and helping Pud and Cord reclaim some dignity in their lives. In a very real sense, love is Spenser's God.

As mentioned, the continued prevalence of racism and prejudice is also an important theme here, especially as it exists alongside the official pronouncements that American society is the best on Earth and that Americans have made great strides in stamping out such anachronisms. Parker has often shown, as he does in this novel, that human nature can be quite stubborn when it comes to getting rid of the sins of the fathers and that a person is better served by being realistic about such insidious flaws than by glossing over them. People will always be people, and some of them will be smallminded, retrograde villains. This type of person is represented in Hugger Mugger by Jon Delroy, the dives' Nazi-like security chief who tellingly wears an "SS" pin on his lapel, the "SS" standing, in this case, for Security South, the company he manages. Delroy is as rigid as an oak and, it turns out, just as dumb. As such, he is the perfect foil for the easy-going, quick-thinking Spenser, who is treading on his territory, but Delroy's brand of evil is tiny compared to the evil that surrounds him, both in the novel and in reality.

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Characters