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Wednesday, 17 June 2009


I love John Mortimer's character that ageless barrister Horace Rumpole, married to She Who Must be Obeyed. I finished reading the first Rumpole Omnibus for the umpteenth time last night. It consists of the first three books. The first two are collections of short stories and the third - Rumpole's Return - is a novel. I think the short stories work slightly better but the novel in this case is equally good and it would have been impossible I think to break it into separate stories.

Rumpole never prosecutes and has a few judges he has regular battles with - The Mad Bull - Judge Bullingham, Judge Vosper who appears not to be human. Then there are his regular clients the Timsons - a family of small time crooks - and their resident solicitor - Mr Bernard. His colleagues change over time - Uncle Tom - T C Rowley - who haunts Chambers because he gets under his sister's feet at home - though he never gets any briefs and is retired; Claude Erskine-Brown who regards crime as distasteful and is married to the former Phyllida Trant - later to become a judge; Guthrie Featherstone QC, MP - head of chambers; Owen Glendour-Owen - though he returned to Wales on being appointed a Circuit Judge; Hoskins who has four hungry daughters to feed; Henry the Clerk and Diane the typist who are involved in amateur dramatics.

In these 3 volumes Rumpole spends some time trying to save Guthrie from his follies by prevent his snooty wife Marigold from divorcing him for having an affair with the temporary typist. His colleagues in chambers spend much time trying to persuade Rumpole himself to retire and he does so briefly in Rumpole's Return when he visits his son and daughter-in-law in Florida. But a murder beckons and he escapes back to his old haunt of the Old Bailey to defend Percival Simpson an Inland Revenue officer against a charge of stabbing at Notting Hill underground station.

I love the dialogue and the plots in these stories. Rumpole himself is a marvellous creation. All the stories have a moral to them and show the disadvantages of the profession. Even when you know what's going to happen - and I have read them all more than once - there are still nuances which I notice on re-reading.

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