Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 773
Most of the regular cast of a Spenser novel appear in Sudden Mischief: Spenser, Susan Silverman, Hawk, and Martin Quirk; Henry Cimoli makes a cameo appearance. Rita Fiore, who played a lead role in the novel Small Vices, as a successful practicing attorney who is disenchanted with the legal system,...
(The entire section contains 773 words.)
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Most of the regular cast of a Spenser novel appear in Sudden Mischief: Spenser, Susan Silverman, Hawk, and Martin Quirk; Henry Cimoli makes a cameo appearance. Rita Fiore, who played a lead role in the novel Small Vices, as a successful practicing attorney who is disenchanted with the legal system, also reappears. She gives Spenser some crucial advice about Francis Ronan. Rachel Wallace, a feisty, sharp-tongued lesbian activist whom Spenser once protected, also reappears and provides caustic social comment and an amused assessment of Spenser and Susan's relationship.
All of the series's regulars play minor roles in Sudden Mischief. Hawk is limited to a background role as an assistant in Spenser's investigation of Brad's past, although his repartee and sardonic social commentary add humor and perspective to the novel. Much of the novel's focus is on the relationship between Spenser and Susan and on the possibility that it will be threatened by her on-going relationship with her former husband. Although Spenser has misgivings about helping Brad and his efforts to do so bring about tension with Susan, in the end, the detective's involvement in the matter clarifies and strengthens his love for Susan. Meanwhile, she re-examines her relationship with her parents, with Brad, and with others. In doing so, she comes to a better understanding of her emotional ties to Spenser.
Susan concludes that her problems with Brad had their roots in her relationship with her parents. It is revealed that her maiden name was Hirsch and that her father, a druggist by profession, had doted on her. As a result, Susan competed with her mother for her father's attention. Not only was Susan's relationship with her mother tainted by maternal jealousy, Susan's later choices in men were made because of their similarities to her father.
Susan decides she has been attracted to men more for their flaws than their strengths. This was true even of her original involvement with Spenser, whom she realizes she has misjudged. He is stronger and more understanding than she initially believed. This exercise in self-analysis ultimately helps Susan clarify and improve her relationship with Spenser, but not before there are some tense moments. Although Susan asks Spenser to help Brad because of the guilt that he inspires in her, she also resents the detective poking around in her past, and she becomes irate when he raises the subject of Brad's problems. In the end, Susan frees herself from her ex-husband by asking Spenser to come to her apartment when Brad seeks refuge there as a desperate fugitive. Realizing that Brad is probably a murderer, as Spenser had alleged, Susan finally sees his dark side and is freed from his influence over her. She turns him in to the police.
Although Brad once seemed to be a frightened victim—a social climber who attended Harvard, changed his name from Silverman, and adopted a veneer of "old boy" WASP respectability—he is really a lot more complex than that. Brad is a cunning murderer and a ruthless con man, who will do whatever it takes to cover his tracks.
On the surface, Brad is someone who has spent his life trying to appear affable; he is a personable self-promoter with a dark side. He has abandoned his Jewishness, attended Harvard, played football, gone into the public relations business, and started working for charities. However, when his mounting debts forced him to turn to crime, Brad, with the help of Richard Gavin and his mob connections, becomes embroiled in the most ambitious scam of his life—the Galapalooza fund-raiser. This has led Brad to murder both a mobster and one of his ex-wives. By the end of the novel, Spenser knows that Brad is also capable of murdering Susan or anyone else who gets in his way.
Most of the novel's secondary characters are two-dimensional: they include Mrs. Ginzburg, who is Brad's sister; Jeanette Ronan; and the other women who are parties to the sexual harassment suit against Brad. However, Parker rounds out a couple of Spenser's foes, who emerge as real flesh-and-blood people. The mob-connected attorney, Richard Gavin, seems more human because he grieves over his murdered lover, Carla. As well, Judge Francis Ronan, who throughout most of the novel seems to be the archetypal evil power broker, turns out to have redeeming traits after all. Upon learning the truth about his wife's adultery and her fraudulent claims of sexual harassment, Ronan apologizes to Spenser for having hired a couple of thugs to attempt to intimidate the detective. In the final analysis, the judge shows that he has a sense of honor. This character twist is an unexpected one.