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Hush Money Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The major themes of the novel emerge from Spenser's investigation of the injustice of the English Department's tenure decision regarding Robinson Nevins. One major theme of the novel is widespread social hypocrisy. Spenser's investigation reveals that Nevins was the victim of political enmity within the Department and that the votes of many department members were influenced by rumors of scandal. The entire process of tenure review is subjected to an ironic treatment by Parker, since the faculty of the English Department is supposedly committed to learning the truth, rather than making decisions on rumor and hearsay. Moreover, the majority of the Department advertises itself as seeking justice for minorities, yet makes little effort to evaluate Nevins' case on the basis of hard evidence. In fact, the Department is chiefly represented at the final hearing by Professor Bass Maitland who doesn't take the time to read the police reports regarding Amir's crimes as a blackmailer and conspirator to commit murder.

Aside from discovering the hypocrisy of most of the English Department, Spenser's investigation also uncovers the additional hypocrisy of Amir Abdullah and several gay activist students, whose efforts to "out" secret homosexuals have devolved into a lucrative blackmail operation. Amir's hypocrisy is compounded by his courting of his students and by rumor mongering in an effort to destroy his chief rival as an African-American professor, Robinson Nevins. Such large-scale hypocrisy is counterbalanced, however, by the hypocrisy of Milo Quant, the right-wing political ideologue who preaches white supremacy and homophobia, yet who secretly enjoys a compulsive affair with a black gay activist, none other than Amir Abdullah.

Spenser's investigation of hypocrisy also uncovers the emotional hypocrisy of K. C. Roth, Susan's friend, in a subplot involving K. C.'s stalker. Although K. C. is being stalked, she evades suspecting the obvious person, Louis Vincent, a former lover, and suggests that the stalker might be her blame- less ex-husband. After being raped by Vincent, K. C. is persuaded to name him only as a result of a stratagem conceived by Spenser and implemented by the police. Finally, after being liberated from the threat of Vincent, K. C. shamelessly tries to attach herself to Spenser and to steal him from Susan. Dishonesty about one's emotions is clearly a theme of this subplot.