Mortimer has written numerous comic detective tales featuring defense barrister Horace Rumpole; Rumpole à la Carte is one of the many collections of these stories. Although Rumpole has not become a Queen’s Counsel and handles mainly Old Bailey crime cases that his colleagues shun, he is satisfied with his lot, possibly because he almost always bests nominal superiors, including judges and the boorish head of his chambers.
The Rumpole stories, which Mortimer also adapted for television, have at least two complementary plots, courtroom and personal, the latter either a domestic crisis between Rumpole and his wife Hilda (“She Who Must Be Obeyed”) or a problem involving the courts or the aging barrister’s colleagues. These subplots not only entertain but also further characterize the unlikely hero, who sometimes selflessly rescues the reputations and careers of ambitious younger barristers, and whose insights and slyness enable him to shape people and situations to his own purposes.
In an early story, Rumpole confesses that although he only feels “truly alive and happy in Law Courts, [he has] a singular distaste for the law.” Indeed, his advocacy on behalf of mainly worthless clients does not rely as much upon his knowledge of the law as upon his detective skills and ability to judge character, talents that link him to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, from whom Rumpole often quotes. Many of the stories, in fact,...
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