Rumpole Rests His Case

Another weekend and another audio book. This time around I listened to several short stories in the Rumpole Rests His Case collection by John Mortimer. If you’re not familiar with the Rumpole series, it’s sufficient to know that Horace Rumpole is a bemused yet skilled barrister in the British courts. Though the series is contemporary, you can’t help but feel that old-tyme English sense to it. (Many of these stories were produced into a delightful television series some years back starring Leo McKern, who was certainly the perfect actor for the part since Mortimer wrote the character specifically for him.)

Rumpole is surrounded by dozens of colorful characters, and though he does manage to solve crimes or at least see that justice is done, these stories aren’t so much about the mysteries involved as the delightful character interplay. The story “Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf” is a good example. Given the clues that are presented, it’s easy to know whodunit by the halfway point in the story. But the fun is seeing how Rumpole manages to pull off the resolution given that the entire British justice system is resisting him. In fact, several points of “evidence” that the reader would need to know to solve the mystery aren’t given until Rumpole uses them, so the (tired) old adage that the reader must have all of the facts isn’t observed. But the mysteries aren’t the point of these stories. The characters are.

I’ve often thought that the British can do mysteries better than the Yanks. I’m not sure why that is, but I think it has to do in part with the more rigid social structure of their society. If (fictional) people can be sorted by fairly reliable categories then the structure of mystery plotting can be more solidly built. Bounders can then be readily used as the culprits. Also, the British have such a profound pedigree in the mystery genre that I think it is in their blood. Americans seem to do better with gritty police procedurals, so each to its strength.

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