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Rumpole Rests His Case

John Mortimer

Viking / Penguin

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-670-91085-6

Publication Date: 2001

211 Pages; £16.99

Date Reviewed: 05-28-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001




04-25-02, 04-29-02, 01-07-03

Just as Arthur Conan Doyle was forever trying to escape from the onus of having created Sherlock Holmes, John Mortimer is constantly attempting to escape the responsibility of having created Rumpole. This is Rumpole's second comeback after Mortimer avowedly swore him off for good, and it's every bit as good as his other court appearances. Do we need to petition Leo McKern (Number Two in 'The Prisoner') to get these made into television shows? Yes, it would be wonderful, but I must admit that when I read the stories I actually hear them spoken in my mind by this actor. Rumpole has assumed a life of his own, and is not apparently going to give it up easily. That said, I waited about seven or eight months for this book to be released stateside, and thus far have seen no sign of it. I finally ordered it up from the UK. The end result of this -- and reading this wonderful collection -- was a visit to the Internet book search engines, to see if I could actually hope to own first edition Rumpole hardcovers. Some of them are out there, and they're not heart-stoppingly expensive, though the cost might give Rumpole himself pause.

'Rumpole Rests His case' find Mortimer bringing Rumpole into the 21st century. Due to the flexibility of this character, it's not at all that hard. In 'Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces', the barrister finds that his chambers have been declared a smoke-free zone, and is actually forced to comply. 'Rumpole and the Asylum Seekers' find the defender standing up for refugees from Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Though written before the current interest in this topic, it stands up perfectly well, with nary a hint of over-topicality or heavy-handedness.

'Rumpole and the Camberwell Carrot' finds Rumpole defending a hard-line anti-drug campaigner accused of lighting up the titular Camberwell Carrot. Mortimer does a nice job of skewering both sides of the political spectrum. He -- and Rumpole -- are excellent equal-opportunity satirists. In 'Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf', the cranky old man enters the electronic age, as he defends a teenager accused of sending harassing email to female fellow student. As one who used to administer information services for a rather large company, I can attest that Mortimer acquits himself nicely as he treads on terrain that too often trips up writers who pretend to know more than they in fact do know. There's nary a hint of 'magic keyboard syndrome', that eternal problem whereby characters type commands on a computer keyboard that yield results improbable in real life.

As usual, reading this collection, I found myself admiring again and again Mortimer's precise command of the language. How can one resist a story that starts: 'Members of the Jury. This case has occupied only ten days of your lives. In a week or two, you will have forgotten every detail about the dead budgerigar, the torn up photograph of Sean Connery, the moldering poached egg on toast behind the sitting room the sitting room curtain and the mysterious cry (was it a call for help, as the prosecution would like you to believe, or the delighted shriek produced by a moment of sexual ecstasy?) which could be heard on that sultry night of July the twenty-third.' One has the impression that Mortimer can conjure up Rumpole at will, like some kind of sorcerer. Certainly he can in these stories, a magic I fully intend to keep believing in as long as possible.