Review

A Rumpole Christmas: Stories

by John Mortimer

In January 2009, the literary world lost a shining star when
English barrister and author John Mortimer passed away. He left
behind a legacy of courtroom fiction featuring Horace Rumpole, the
self-described “Old Bailey Hack” whose career defending
criminals was chronicled not only in novels and short stories, but
also in radio and television episodes in England and the United
States. Rumpole was a staunch believer in the presumption of
innocence, the “Golden Thread” that runs through
Anglo-American law. He fought for his clients, even when all
evidence pointed to guilt. Mortimer based many Rumpole tales on
actual cases and often placed the barrister in ongoing quarrels of
contemporary legal issues.

A RUMPOLE CHRISTMAS finds Horace in a series of vignettes
centered on holiday themes. Horace himself is rarely seized by the
Christmas spirit. One ponders that he might be inclined to share a
glass of his favorite wine, Chateau Thames Embankment, with
Ebenezer Scrooge, who shares (albeit for different reasons)
Rumpole’s disdain for Christmas cheer. It is not that Horace
is mean; rather, he dislikes the forced merriment of the holiday
season. Rumpole is a man of fierce independence who enjoys such
things as inexpensive wine and cigars, an unhealthy diet, and
baiting judges at the Old Bailey. Thus, the joy of the holiday
season, whether actual or obligatory, is not for Horace. In that
spirit, the stories in this collection have a common structure.

The joys of reading A RUMPOLE CHRISTMAS are twofold: the stories
are humorous, entertaining and touch upon important legal issues,
and they feature the traditional Rumpole characters who work in his
chambers and in the Old Bailey. In “Rumpole and Father
Christmas,” Claude Erskine-Brown and his wife Phyllida, who
has become a judge, organize a gathering for the children of the
members of chambers. One of Horace’s former acquaintances
makes an appearance with some unforeseen consequences.

“Rumpole’s Slimmed-Down Christmas” finds
Horace once again on a merry adventure organized by wife Hilda,
affectionately referred to as “She Who Must Be Obeyed.”
Mrs. Rumpole has decided that the holiday is the perfect time for a
visit to a health farm. Horace would as soon be a prosecutor as a
resident of such an establishment. Hilda, unlike any Old Bailey
Judge, will never allow Rumpole the final say. When murder occurs
during their visit, Horace becomes both an attorney and
investigator.

“Rumpole and the Christmas Break” is the
quintessential Mortimer story. Horace’s client is a suspected
terrorist. Several attorneys have declined to represent Hussein
Khan, who is charged with the murder of Professor Honoria Glossop.
Khan is alleged to have killed the professor for her views against
supporters of Islam who preach violence. In Mortimer’s hands,
the theme of this story raises important and thoughtful questions
about how freedom-loving societies face attacks on their
dearly-held freedoms.

In the world of courtroom fiction, Horace Rumpole is a legend.
Mortimer’s passing certainly spells the end of Horace’s
career. Lawyers in America loved Horace not only for his legal
talents but also for his deep devotion to the law itself. A RUMPOLE
CHIRSTMAS is a wonderful gift for your courtroom fiction or
mystery-loving friends.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011

A Rumpole Christmas: Stories
by John Mortimer

  • Publication Date: October 26, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143117912
  • ISBN-13: 9780143117919