||Rumpole of the Bailey is one of the most beloved characters in British legal fiction. The Rumpole stories, however, cannot be classed among legal procedurals; that would imply some reference, however tenuous, to principles of jurisprudence, and Rumpole feels no compunction to burden himself or his clients with such. As Phyllida Trant, the recurring “Portia of [his] chambers,” remarks, Rumpole is not very good with law, and in fact is concerned only with securing a “not guilty” for his client in whatever ways possible–usually by outwitting the judge and convincing the jury through hyperbole, distraction and, failing all else, subterfuge.
Sir John Mortimer, who died early in 2009, was an author and barrister; he attained the highest rank of Queen’s Counsel or QC, an abbreviation which Rumpole invariably referred to as “Queer Customer,” revealing the attitude of both author and character towards the British legal institution of the 1970s and ’80s. Forever Rumpole assembles a collection of 15 stories–seven of them selected, some two decades ago, by Mortimer himself as his favorites. They are balanced by seven more recently written stories, along with a previously unpublished novel fragment Mortimer was writing at the time of his death, “Rumpole and the Brave New World.”
Reading the stories in Forever Rumpole is like a delightfully cozy visit with an old friend, one who knows his limits and is rather pleased with himself just as he is. All the familiar icons are present: Rumpole’s cigar-ash-covered waistcoat; his Wordsworth quotations; his oft-referenced Penge Bungalo Murder Case, which he, a junior barrister, won “alone and without a leader”; and, certainly, his ever-challenging relationship with his wife, Hilda, “She Who Must Be Obeyed.” This lovely collection deserves a space on the shelf of any fan of Horace Rumpole, the indefatigable defender of the Golden Thread that sustains British justice: the onus on the prosecution to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. —Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard Books, and blogger at Still Working for Books
Discover: Fourteen entertaining tales, the best of the beloved Rumpole, plus a previously unpublished novel fragment, will delight fans.
|Viking, $30 hardcover, 9780670023066|
Forever Rumpole: Stories, by John Mortimer [first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, 12/20/2011]