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Onyx reviews: Hugger
Mugger by Robert B. Parker
Spenser is back and out of his usual element. In Hugger Mugger, Robert
B. Parker sends the detective from Boston to Lamarr, Georgia, on the outskirts
of Atlanta. Spenser is also without his regular assistant, Hawk, who is off in
Paris on vacation, possibly to avoid the necessarily complex plot manipulations
required to get him down south.
Hugger Mugger is a valuable thoroughbred belonging to Walter Clive, owner and
figurehead operator of Three Fillies Stables. The real proprietor of Three
Fillies is Clive's youngest "filly," Penny, who accompanies her father
to Boston to enlist Spenser's help. Three of their horses have been shot—one
fatally—and the Clives are afraid that someone intends to harm Hugger Mugger,
who has the potential to be the next Secretariat.
Within his first few hours on the job, Spenser is engaged in double entendres
with the Clive women and delivers his obligatory lesson of fisticuffs to put one
of their husbands in his place at a party held to introduce him to the estate.
He is an outsider in the south and has to find his way around the small
community, where the Clive name is synonymous with money and power. The local
police, though competent, are unwilling to investigate the Clives. Spenser has
no such scruples and digs into the family and local history to try to figure out
why someone seems to want to harm the Clives' main asset.
Spenser lays bare all of the family secrets, the usual array of proclivities
associated in fiction with rich southerners: infidelity, alcoholism, depravity
and an entangled family tree. The Clives would fit well into any Tennessee
Williams play. In addition to Penny, the other two fillies are SueSue and her
co-alcoholic husband Pud, and the elder Stonie, who is married to Cord, a man
more comfortable in the company of young boys. The girls' hippie mother left
home to wear flowers in her hair in San Francisco when Penny was fifteen and has
been replaced by girlfriend Dolly Hartman, who has a mysterious history of her
A murder puts an end to the attempts on the Clive's horses, leaving Spenser
wondering whether the attacker was scared off or whether the horses were ever
the intended victims of the campaign. His investigation is cut short, though,
when Penny dismisses him from the case. Under different circumstances, Spenser
might feel duty-bound to continue an incomplete case even when fired, but he has
been doing a lot of pro bono work lately. He does the fiscally responsible thing
and returns to Boston to take on other cases. The prolonged absence from his
partner, Susan Silverberg, probably made his decision easier.
Several months later, the case is still open and a member of the Clive family
rehires Spenser to solve the murder. He returns to Georgia, where he finds that
his welcome at Three Fillies has worn out and the family affairs have taken a
Parker does not break any new ground with Hugger Mugger. Spenser is
still a fast-witted ruffian with a heart of gold and daggers for words. He forms
a string of unlikely allies, including a gay ex-cop, now a bouncer at a gay
club, who serves as a temporary replacement for Spenser's regular sidekick,
Hawk. Faced with a steady stream of temptresses, he remains faithful to Susan,
but his professional ethics do not prevent him from breaking the law so long as
the end justifies the means.
In a Spenser novel, the means by which the hardboiled detective solves the
case are usually more interesting than the end itself.
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