Saturday, December 26, 2009
The Christmas Curmudgeon
Author John Mortimer (1923-2009)died earlier this year. He produced a considerable number of plays, screen plays, radio plays and novels, and managed a full-time legal career as well. But his legacy, what he will be remembered for, is the Horace Rumpole stories.
Rumpole of the Bailey. Quoter of Worsdworth and Shakespeare. Smoker of smelly cigars. Husband of She Who Must Be Obeyed. Sipper of the occasional glass of Chateau Thames Embankment. Defender of presumed innocence until proven guilty. Hero of the Penge Bungalow Murders. Curmudgeon Extraordinaire.
I love the Rumpole stories. I first met him on PBS Mystery, played by Leo McKern, the Australian actor who came to be identified with Rumpole. McKern died in 2002. And now Rumpole’s creator is gone as well.
But Rumpole lives on, in A Rumpole Christmas, a delightful collection of five stories published in magazines and newspapers over the past 12 years.
In “Rumpole and Father Christmas,” our barrister meets an old friend (of sorts) playing Father Christmas at the office holiday party. Meets him, that is, as he’s returning things he stole during the party. In “Rumpole’s Slimmed-Down Christmas,” Rumpole’s wife Hilda has booked them at a health farm during the holidays – and Rumpole finds himself defending the owner of the health farm against a charge of murder. In “Rumpole and the Boy,” he finds himself the object of admiration of a boy who wants to be a barrister just like him. “Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces” shows how the old British holiday tradition of a pantomime can unravel the best-laid plans to frame someone for a crime they didn’t commit. And in “Rumpole and the Christmas Break,” Horace is defending a Muslim student accused of murdering a professor – and wondering what his wife is up to with Justice Graves (the Gravestone, as Rumpole calls him).
These are all vintage Rumpole stories – well done, charming, funny, and just the right amount of Mortimer’s pointed and insightful wit.