Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 187

As is usually the case in the Spenser books, Sudden Mischief relies heavily on the central character's crisp, witty first-person narration. One of the secrets of Spenser's appeal is his no-nonsense candor and the way he skewers many of the things we take for granted in society. The dialogue between...

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As is usually the case in the Spenser books, Sudden Mischief relies heavily on the central character's crisp, witty first-person narration. One of the secrets of Spenser's appeal is his no-nonsense candor and the way he skewers many of the things we take for granted in society. The dialogue between Spenser and Hawk (and to a lesser degree between Spenser and Susan), gives voice to Parker's views on a diverse range of topics and pokes fun at everything from political correctness and contemporary sexual mores to the fitness craze and the rantings of self-help gurus.

In most respects, Sudden Mischief does not introduce any fresh narrative techniques or innovative plot complications, although having a male private detective attempt to help the former husband of the detective's "significant other" is an off-beat plot development. Like most detective novels, this one features a slam-bang ending. Brad returns to Susan's apartment, and Spenser confronts him there. At the same time, Susan is forced to deal with the reality that her ex-husband really is a ruthless con man who is more than capable of murder if it suits his evil ends.

Social Concerns

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475

The plot of Robert B. Parker's Sudden Mischief deals with some important contemporary social concerns, including the use and abuse of charity fund-raisers, the relationships between divorced spouses, and the nature of sexual harassment. The wife of a retired judge and three other women have alleged that Brad Sterling (a.k.a. Brad Silverman), the ex-husband of a woman named Susan, is guilty of sexually harassing them. It turns out that Brad has been Jeanette Ronan's lover, and he has made indiscreet comments to the other women, but the sexual harassment charges are false; Jeanette has invented them to conceal her affair with Brad. Jeanette's husband, a retired judge named Francis Ronan, is unaware of all this and has filed a civil suit against Brad. If Brad seems unconcerned, it is because he has some love letters Jeanette has written. He also has more pressing worries. Brad has stolen money from a sham charitable organization that is run by the mob; he is fearful about what will happen to him if he is caught.

While investigating the civil suit against Brad, private eye Spenser studies the Massachusetts law on sexual harassment, a statute that is so narrow in its scope that the case against Brad looks tenuous. By implication, Spenser's investigation considers the notion that many sexual harassment charges (possibly even some of the ones that have been made against President Clinton) are questionable; in the strict, legal sense, "sexual harassment" involves offering enticements for professional advancement, threats of retaliation against an employee, or creating an unpleasant work environment.

Another of the social concerns dealt with in Sudden Mischief is the existence of fraudulent charities and fund-raisers. Brad's most recent enterprise has been a huge charity fund-raiser called Galapalooza. However, Spenser's investigation reveals that none of the groups supposedly involved in the event got any money from it—none, that is, other than one called Civil Streets, which is run by Carla Quagliozzi, another of Brad's ex-wives. That agency turns out to be a front for a crime syndicate operation. Carla's current boyfriend, a mob-connected attorney named Richard Gavin, is the legal officer and brains behind Civil Streets. Although Brad has also cheated that organization and, therefore, has reason to fear the mob, author Parker's depiction of the activities of Civil Streets serves as a warning to readers to be careful about the charities they support.

Another of the novel's social concerns is embodied in the character of Brad Sterling, Susan's former husband. Brad is a parasite who preys on the guilt and pity of his former wives to get money, until they—as his sister Mrs. Ginzburg does—decide they can no longer help him. Brad's involvement in charity scams is a logical next step in his criminal activities. Author Parker suggests that the ingratiating former spouse is a new kind of social parasite.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 293

Robert Parker has identified crime writer Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) as the major influence on his fiction. In fact, Parker paid homage to the British-born novelist in 1989 when he completed Chandler's unfinished novel Poodle Springs, and again two years later when he wrote Perchance to Dream, a sequel to Chandler's 1939 classic The Big Sleep. What is more, Chandler's famous detective Philip Marlowe provided a heroic model for Spenser, and it is clear that Chandler's wise-cracking and ironic dialogue is echoed in Parker's writing.

However, apparently it was not Chandler, but rather the mystery writer Ross Macdonald (1915-1983), who inspired Parker in his writing of Sudden Mischief. Macdonald (whose popular Lew Archer series includes such novels as The Moving Target, Underground Man, and Blue Hammer), along with Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, The Glass Key, etc.) and Chandler, are considered to be the godfathers of the hard-boiled detective fiction. Aside from its roots in this genre, Parker's fiction owes a nod to the influence of Ernest Hemingway, who pioneered the lean and terse narrative style that has become a hallmark of Parker's writing. The Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser provided Parker's detective hero with his surname, and the poet Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590-1596) celebrates romantic and chivalric ideals in an allegorical setting. For the first time, Parker's title Sudden Mischief and epigraph (a quotation that appears at the beginning of a book or a chapter) are taken from The Faerie Queene; other Spenser novels have used titles and epigraphs from Elizabethan poets (including William Shakespeare and John Donne) and nineteenth-century and twentieth-century romantic poets (such as William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Robert Browning, and W. B. Yeats) as reminders of Spenser's loyalty to a code of romantic ideals.

Adaptations

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There is a Dove Entertainment audiotape version of Sudden Mischief, which is read by actor William Windom. No film adaptation of this novel has been made yet, but there was an ABC television series Spenser for Hire (1985-1988), which featured the characters of Spenser, Hawk, Susan, Martin Quirk, Frank Belson, and Rita Force. This series, which starred Robert Urich as Spenser and Avery Brooks as Hawk, lives on in rerun syndication on cable television.

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