cover image Rumpole and the Angel of Death: 9

Rumpole and the Angel of Death: 9

John Clifford Mortimer / Author Viking Books $22.95 (272p) ISB

After a two-year break, the indomitable barrister Horace Rumpole returns in six sprightly new capers, including one told by his long-suffering wife Hilda, who proves to be every bit as canny as her crafty curmudgeon of a husband. As always, Mortimer writes with a Wodehousian elan but, unlike Wodehouse, he incorporates a spirited if indirect wrestling with the social and political issues of the day. In the title piece, an old judge with Alzheimer's is a posthumous figure in a case involving a doctor who is charged with unduly hastening the judge's end. In ""Rumpole and the Way Through the Woods,"" animal-rights activists clash with fox hunters, and the wife of Horace's old friend dies mysteriously. When the widower finds new romance with indecent haste, the wily Rumpole has to consider more than just heated politics. Dealing elsewhere with sexism and child kidnapping, Rumpole is by turns acutely sensitive and brazenly bullheaded, as Mortimer dances nimbly around thorny subjects with his trademark ease, applying all-knowing wit and painstaking characterization. (Mar.)