Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mystery Book Review: Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer

Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer
A Rumpole of the Bailey Mystery

Viking (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-670-03804-0 (0670038040)
ISBN-13: 978-0-670-03804-6 (9780670038046)
Publication Date: November 2006
List Price: $23.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): While defending a mind-numbingly dull theft charge, Rumpole finds that the new terrorist laws have hamstrung his beloved courts. Meanwhile, a Pakistani doctor has been imprisoned without charge or trial under suspicion of aiding al Qaeda in its plans for a terrorist attack. With the doctor’s wife begging him to help her husband, the Great Defender is determined to bring the case before a jury.

Trouble is also brewing at home as Hilda—She Who Must Be Obeyed—sits down to write her own memoirs describing her view of Rumpole and her own love life. Rumpole’s battle on the home front threatens to derail his case but where there’s a Rumpole, there’s a way!

Review: Though John Mortimer has been publishing short stories featuring London barrister Horace Rumpole for decades, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror is only the second full-length novel dedicated to one of his cases.

Rumpole's bread-and-butter clients, the Timson family, whose constant brushes with the law keep his financial balance sheet healthy, have decided to seek other legal counsel after Rumpole agrees to defend the Pakistani husband of an extended member of the Timson clan who has been accused of terrorism. Though Rumpole bemoans his loss of income, he is outraged that Mahmood Khan is being held without being informed of the crimes for which he is charged. When Khan is ultimately released from prison but subsequently held under house arrest in his own home, Rumpole fights to get him a jury trial, one in which he is confident Khan will be found not guilty.

The clever plot of Rumpole and the Reign of Terror and the way in which it unfolds is to be savored. Rumpole is quick to act when unexpected circumstances allow him to intervene on behalf of his client, and when they serve to benefit the judicial system at large, so much the better. After Rumpole gets the trial to which Mahmood Khan is entitled, he begins to doubt his client's innocence. But he never wavers in his defense of the basic tenets of British law. Once the trial is underway, Rumpole is in his element. "It's in the public interest that I establish the facts leading up to an inevitable conclusion ...", he declares. And then, in his best courtroom manner, he compels the guilty party to admit to the conspiracy. It's all exceedingly entertaining and very well done.

The book is written in a semi-autobiographical manner from the perspective of Rumpole, and he refers to this case being a part of his personal record. Interspersed between chapters written by Rumpole are those penned by his wife, Hilda, who reflects on her married life, her friends, and, somewhat improbably, her relationship with one of Rumpole's colleagues. Hilda's memoir extracts, as they are called, are no doubt intended to complement and contrast with those of her husband, but seem oddly out of place. They're interesting in their own right, and they provide an additional dimension to the characters, but at the same time, and it's hard to specifically identify why, they just don't work in the overall context of the book.

Special thanks to Viking for providing a copy of Rumpole and the Reign of Terror for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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