is an icon to attorneys on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Attired in his wig and robe, he is the envy of trial lawyers for
his scathing ability to skewer judges on the finer points of the
law and his passionate defense of prisoners at the bar who seemed
destined for a term in prison. He is English barrister Horace
Rumpole, a venerated legend for large numbers of English and
The curmudgeonly trial lawyer, the creation of English barrister
John Mortimer, first appeared in America on Public
Broadcasting’s “Mystery” television series.
Episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey ran for three decades on
American TV and spawned short stories and novels that centered on
the life of Rumpole, who loved to quote Wordsworth and defend those
whose cases often seemed to be hopeless. The Rumpole saga was for
many an education on the differences between the English legal
system and its counterpart across the Atlantic. Through Rumpole,
Mortimer educated many Americans about the law and important legal
issues in both England and America.
RUMPOLE MISBEHAVES is Mortimer’s latest effort in a series of
nearly 20 publications. The exact number is difficult to pinpoint
because their popularity has yielded many short stories, novellas
and compilations. But all of the Rumpole stories share a common
thread. As a practicing English barrister, Mortimer had strong
opinions on many important issues of the law. Rumpole serves as
Mortimer’s alter ego expressing concerns about those issues.
Over the past three decades they have ranged far and wide, but
Mortimer and Rumpole are both fierce defenders of civil liberties
and human rights. For Rumpole the freedoms enunciated in the
Magna Carta remain the bedrock foundation for English
In RUMPOLE MISBEHAVES, that target of Mortimer’s concern is
the Anti-Social behavior Order, or ASBO, a recent innovation of
English law directed against those individuals engaging in
anti-social behavior. Rumpole’s client is 12-year-old Peter
Timson, a member of a family well known to followers of
Rumpole’s legal career. Young Timson has the audacity to play
soccer on the streets of his neighborhood, an activity that results
in his being served with an order to appear in court. Soon Horace
himself will be defending a request for an order brought against
him by members of his law office. Through these activities Mortimer
establishes the absurd consequences of government action that seeks
to control minute aspects of citizens’ lives.
No Rumpole novel would be complete without a case down at the Old
Bailey, London’s criminal court. Rumpole represents Graham
Wetherby, who is accused of murdering a Russian-born prostitute.
Wetherby was arrested in the strangled woman’s bedroom, and
his case appears to be open and shut. But fans of Rumpole know all
too well that nothing is what it appears to be once he dons his wig
and robe. The case takes many strange twists and turns before
reaching its conclusion in an Old Bailey courtroom.
All of Mortimer’s characters who readers have grown to love
make their appearance in RUMPOLE MISBEHAVES. The barristers of 4
Equity Court --- including Claude Erskine-Brown and Sam Ballard,
head of chambers --- continue in their never-ending quest to
deprive Rumpole of the excesses that make his life enjoyable. The
old Bailey Judges, who cannot understand why Rumpole persists in
fighting for clients who seem guilty, are also present. Last but
certainly not least is Horace’s wife Hilda, affectionately
named "She who must be obeyed." Ironically Hilda has decided that
reading the law is an avocation she might undertake. Through it
all, the understated humor of Mortimer weaves another entrancing
tale in the life of England’s best known barrister.
For many years, Rumpoleans have marveled at the exploits of a
defender of the rights of all and a keen observer of the vagaries
of society. Rumpole cannot continue on forever, but his vast array
of fans can take joy in the fact that his legal career continues
and his passion for justice remains robust.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 23, 2011