Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Rumpole Christmas by John Mortimer

John Mortimer is now dead -- he left us this past January at the age of 85 -- and so these collected holiday tales of his most famous character are likely to be his last literary testament. (Although I wouldn't be surprised if industrious researchers were, even now, digging through his files in search of anything even remotely publishable; it happens to every popular writer after death.)

A Rumpole Christmas collects five Christmas stories narrated by the irascible barrister Horace Rumpole, which originally appeared in British magazines and newspapers between 1997 and 2006. It's a small book, which implies (sadly) that there aren't any other Rumpole stories lurking, uncollected, out there.

I reviewed the last Rumpole novel, Rumpole Misbehaves, here a year and a half ago, and made the glancing comment that Rumpole stories are more suited to be short than novel-length, given how they rely on a particular, simplified version of the world. A Rumpole Christmas supports that point, since these stories -- written around the same time as Misbehaves -- are sprightly and mischievous and light-hearted, right up there with the best of Mortimer's earlier work.

These are all Christmas tales, of various lengths, from a vignette about a thieving Father Christmas to a novelette in which Rumpole defends a Muslim "terrorist" against murder charges, with stops along the way for a holiday-time diet retreat (interrupted by murder), the return of some old clients from Rumpole's past, and a boy who wants to grow up to be Rumpole. Mortimer is in fine form here, and the axe-grinding that has occasionally popped up in his work -- always pretty mild, admittedly, and always for the rights of the accused and the plight of the unpopular -- only makes minor appearances.

It's a slim book, and inevitably bound to a particular time of year -- but it is that time of year right now, so this is a fine book to read sometime in the next three weeks. I greatly recommend doing so.
Listening to: KaiserCartel - Season Song (live)
via FoxyTunes

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