The iconic characters of fiction tend to wear their years lightly, remaining the same even as the world around them moves with the times. I’ve just been paying a visit to one such old friend in the pork-pie-munching, Chateau-Thames-Embankment-swilling shape of Horace Rumpole. The old warhorse of the bar has been forced to confront some of the modern realities of life in The Anti-Social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole, but he continues to treat life with the same sort of stoic grumpiness that distinguished his earlier episodes. And of course, the same irritants are there to play their usual part – the mad judges on a power trip, the syncophantic members of his chambers, and the well-worn relationship with his wife, Hilda.
As a barrister, John Mortimer had a detailed knowledge of the workings of the Criminal Bar and the book will not cause any of the lawyers among us to flinch. In fact, criminal barristers may even recognise themselves and their colleagues in the sharply-drawn cast that surrounds Rumpole ( I am fairly sure Horace Rumpole is unique). Mortimer also has a fine turn of phrase, accompanied by a sly wit. My favourite: “I was seated alone in my favourite corner of Pommeroy’s Wine Bar, sharing a bottle of Chateau Thames Embankment with myself.”
The Rumpole series is never going to keep you on the edge of your seat, or make you re-evaluate our existence. It features no blood or sex and little that is sensational. Still, if you are looking for well-written, well-plotted crime fiction, featuring one of the great characters of recent years, you could do far worse.