cover image Rumpole on Trial

Rumpole on Trial

John Clifford Mortimer / Author Viking Books $21 (256p) ISBN 9

Public TV has made a huge audience familiar with Mortimer's rumpled and irritable English barrister, and this book of Rumpole yarns is very much the sort of mixture Mortimer has prospered with before. The legal knowledge is keen but lightly worn, the plots flimsy but serviceable and the humor endearingly old-fashioned, rather like an English music hall turn. (A contemporary reader will often find particular difficulty with such pawky formula stuff as Rumpole's calling his wife She Who Must Be Obeyed.) The title story is a gem, as Rumpole carries his genial contempt for judges a bit too far and is driven to apologize only when he realizes what a life of retirement from the bar would be like; others, like ``Rumpole and the Eternal Triangle'' and ``Rumpole and the Soothsayer,'' are rather tired and mechanical. In his non-Rumpole novels ( Titmuss Regained et al.), Mortimer always seems a sweeter-natured, more rounded artist than the man who keeps Rumpole going. He wouldn't be the first author whose public remained fonder of a character than its creator is, and this collection shows signs of such disaffection. (Dec.)