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Rumpole Misbehaves

February 19th, 2009 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

Rumpole MisbehavesRumpole Misbehaves, by John Mortimer (Viking 2007)

Horace Rumpole, the life-time junior barrister of the Old Bailey has been a long acquaintance of mine, first as a regular PBS series, Mystery!, and then only later in the books of his creator, John Mortimer. Like his creation, Mortimer is a lawyer by training and has a wonderful way with words. They both are able to make their opponents look like pompous fools and ninnies in such a way as to allow the reader enjoy their sheer imbecility. One might even forget that she has more in common with naves than they do the protagonist until it is too late. Unlike Rumpole, Mortimer was a successful lawyer–taking silk and earning the title QC (Queen’s Council, or as Rumpole prefers “Queer Customer”), and then becoming a successful writer. It is Rumpole, however, who is the more compelling character by managing to find justice for everyone but himself.

The injustice Rumpole is tilting against this time is something the British call an Anti-Social Behavior Order, or ASBO. In an attempt to control unruly adolescents, there apparently is a point in British Law where a youth may be slapped with this ASBO for what would otherwise be considered misdemeanors, but without need for the accused to face her accusers or challenge the evidence. Once one is given said ASBO, one is essentially on parole and breaking the terms of parole will earn one a term in what we would call juvenile detention. If such procedures are enough to make you wince, you had better think twice. Mortimer is likely not only taking aim at New Labour but also making a none-too-subtle dig at our own American Administration and legal position of illegal enemy combatants. Mortimer is good at having you side with his particular angels, whether they are yours or not.

This particular ABSO has been branded to one Peter Timson, of the same Timson clan that has been Rumpole meat and drink (Pommeroy’s Very Ordinary, in this case) for almost as long as Rumpole has been at Equity Court. Peter apparently crossed into a too posh neighborhood to retrieve a football (very well, read “soccer ball,” if you must) once more than what he ought.

More than that is involved, however. In for the ride we have a murder, prostitution, the smuggling of illegal immigrants, global warming, and Rumpole’s revolting cigars. In all of this Rumpole also threads his way (with the whole hearted assistance of She Who Must be Obeyed and the tepid support of the Mad Bull) to obtain that which he so richly deserves, the QC. Of course no Rumpole story is complete without a parallel tale of She Who Must be Obeyed. And with so many of Rumpole’s warped adventures, parallel lines do meet.

If you don’t know who She Who Must be Obeyed or the Mad Bull are? More’s the pity, but it is a thing easily remedied. These are but two of the colorful cast members in Mortimer’s delightful tale. Rumpole and justice (at least for the rest of us) triumphs again.

Jimm Wetherbee

Rompole Misbehaves is no longer held, but if it looks good, you can still get it on InterLibrary Loan.