Always wary of pompous judges, "their assembled lordships who like nothing less than being judged themselves," British barrister Horace Rumpole faces off against them once again, defending six new clients in this 1995 collection of stories, the author's first collection to have been written as short stories and not as adaptations of his TV scripts. Here many familiar characters continue, though their roles are much reduced in scale, compared to author John Mortimer's longer novels. The biggest and most pleasant surprise is that Rumpole's cantankerous wife Hilda, long a fixture known as "She Who Must Be Obeyed," has written her own story here, her recognizable "voice" describing her marriage and giving a new slant to our views of Rumpole.
Other stories in this collection include: "Rumpole and the Way Through the Woods," in which Rumpole deals with animal rights and foxhunting; "Rumpole and The Little Boy Lost," in which he defends a "kidnapper"; "Rumpole and the Model Prisoner," in which he deals with a feminist who wants revenge on a fellow barrister for calling her "fat"; "Rumpole and the Rights of Man," which takes him abroad to the European Court of Human Rights"; and "Rumpole and the Angel of Death," in which he defends an unabashed proponent of euthanasia who is accused of murdering Rumpole's old friend, "Judge Chippy."
In each of these stories, author Mortimer treats a contemporary issue with the seriousness it deserves. At the same time, however, he uses his trademark wit and ascerbic humor to put these issues into perspective and keep the major characters from taking themselves too seriously. Because the plots are not complex and tend to follow familiar patterns, there are few surprises, and the stories and Rumpole himself feel familiar and "comfy."
Those who are already fans of Rumpole will love these stories, as they show Rumpole continuing his assault on hypocrisy, using the legal system and his own insights to see that justice prevails, engaging in the marital tug of war with Hilda, and enjoying his cigars, his claret, and the good fellowship of his friends. Those new to Rumpole may prefer to start by reading one of the Rumpole novels or listening to one of the full-length audiotapes instead. The additional length allows author Mortimer to develop the characters in greater depth and to highlight the humor and absurdity of some of the plots. n Mary Whipple