Saturday, December 01, 2007

Crime Has Never Paid a Reader So Well

Title: The Best of Rumpole
Author: John Mortimer

I take up my pen at this advanced age during a lull in business (there’s not much crime about, all the best villains seem to be off on holiday in the Costa Brava), in order to write my reconstructions of some of my recent triumphs (including a number of recent disasters) in the courts of law, hoping thereby to turn a bob or two which won’t be immediately grabbed by the taxman, or my clerk Henry, or by She Who Must Be Obeyed, and perhaps give some sort of entertainment to those who, like myself, have found in British justice a lifelong subject of harmless fun.

Honestly, my life would be so much darker without the periodic foray I make into the whimsical and wonderful world of British humor.

Rumpole is a new character for me, although I know more intelligent folk are familiar with him through PBS. A humble criminal defense lawyer toiling away in the British legal system, he appreciates a good bottle of claret, cigars, Wordsworth, and the rule “innocent until proven guilty.” While invigorated by delivering a blustering defense in court, he doesn’t actually much like the law and makes it a point to never plead guilty. And this, of course, makes me like him very much.

The Best of Rumpole is a collection of short stories selected by Rumpole’s creator, John Mortimer. The stories are amusing, witty, and short – the perfect length for a daily commute or that empty hour before bedtime that used to be filled by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Oh boys, where have you gone?) Populated with characters ranging from the mildly ridiculous (Rumpole’s colleague Claude Erskine-Brown) to the bossy (Rumpole’s wife Hilda, a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed) to the shamefully incompetent and ignorant (pretty much every judge Rumpole encounters), the stories hum with the fun of gently mocking the absurdities of the British legal system.

If you can stomach spending so much time with a lawyer – even one as rumpled, witty, and wise as Rumpole – these stories are recommended. As for me, I’ll definitely be revisiting the Old Bailey in his company.

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posted by Elizabeth at 2:53 PM


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