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As is the case in other novels in this detective series, Sudden Mischief spotlights Spenser's relationship with Susan. His feelings lead him to take on the unpleasant and unrewarding task of helping her to help Brad. However, the private eye also reaffirms his code of values in other ways, especially when he discovers the truth about Brad's activities, despite intimidation from Judge Ronan, Richard Gavin, and from Brad himself. As is usually the case in a Spenser novel, the hero uncovers a major crime—the true nature of the Galapalooza fundraiser, which most people seem willing to forget about in order to avoid bad publicity.

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Yet another theme of Sudden Mischief is Susan's need to deal honestly and directly with her emotions and to understand what once drew her to Brad. Although for a time she reveals a deep-rooted anger in flashes of temper which she directs at Spenser, Susan finally confronts the demons that haunt her. By the end of the novel, she has sorted things out and also has realized that Brad is probably a murderer who must be turned in to the police.

Sudden Mischief makes the case for courage and honesty in emotional relationships. This theme is reinforced in a subplot involving Judge Ronan and his wife Jeanette. Ronan appears to be a stronger man after Jeanette abandons her bogus sexual harassment story and confesses to her adultery. In a surprising character twist, the Judge then apologizes to Spenser for having threatened him.

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