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Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders - John Mortimer

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Author: John Mortimer / Genre: Fiction

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      30.10.2006 12:23
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      Compelling legal tale, with serious main plot balanced by comic sub-plots.

      After reading John Mortimer's other tales in this series, I feel like I know the main characters well, and I have grown quite fond of the central one, Horace Rumpole.

      He is an "honest" barrister, who is concerned that justice is done, as well as collecting his fees, unlike many of his colleagues. For example, when a colleague compliments him saying, "You did well there, Horace." He naively assumes that it is because he has upheld the Best Traditions of the Bar, until, "You won yourself another brief" is added.

      Although this is now the penultimate book in the series (first published in 2004), it could be a good starting point for those who wish to discover the delights of this series, as it covers the beginnings of Rumpole's legal career.

      In the earlier books, there are many references to the Penge Bungalow Murders, telling the reader how well Rumpole managed this first major case of his career, which he undertook as an unusually junior barrister for a murder case. The book tells us how he came to be in this position and how he dealt with it.

      Any murder trial is, of course, serious, but this one is particularly so for Rumpole, as he thinks that a wrongly accused young man may be convicted and face the death penalty.

      This mood is well balanced, in my opinion, by the complementary storylines involving the Timpson family, who by comparison with murders might be considered "loveable rogues", and Rumpole's private life.

      It is written in the form of memoirs, taking us back to the 1940s and 50s, and involves the Royal Air Force. Rumpole investigates to try to distinguish between the heroes and villains. Although I can't comment from personal experience, from the way my older family and friends used to talk about this era, I think it conveys the period well.

      I would expect readers who have enjoyed previous Rumpole books to especially enjoy meeting a lot of the main characters as they were in their younger years.

      Those who haven't experienced Rumpole before will be able to get a glimpse of what happened to the young characters, as Rumpole occasionally brings us back to the present, while writing his memoirs.

      Some of the other books in the series have chapters that can sensibly be read independently, but the main plot of this story runs throughout the whole of the book.

      In sub-plots, Rumpole handles a less prestigious case, and also attempts to have a love life. Rumpole is not an obvious romantic, but hopes that living near a shop selling "rubber johnnies" will prove convenient. As this plot unravels, those "rubber johnnies" lead to a very unexpected turn in his personal life. If you want to know how NOT using them can result in marriage, don't ask me, as I don't want to spoil the plot for you, but I will say that it wasn't because of a pregnancy.


      * John Mortimer *

      The author was born in 1923 and was a practising barrister, before changing his career to writing. As a barrister, he has led the defence of an accused murderer at the Old Bailey, as the fictional Rumpole does in this book.

      His earlier Rumpole books were turned into a television series, but they stopped recording with the death of Leo McKern, the actor playing Rumpole.

      He has written autobiographies called Murders and Other Friends, Cliinging to the Wreckage and Where There's a Will.

      As well as books, he has written many film scripts and plays for both television and radio.

      His works have earned him a Knighthood for Services to the Arts.

      There is a recent unauthorised biography, by Graham Lord, and an authorised biography, by Valerie Grove, is due out in Spring 2007.

      That latest Rumpole book, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, was recently published in hardback (5 Oct 2006), and I hope to get this for Christmas.


      * Recommendation *

      I found the writing style easy to read, but effective, alternating between serious and comic. The plot was compelling and the characters believeable.

      I highly recommend this to those who would appreciate a who-dun-it, with some comic interludes, set in the period after the Second World War.



      Paperback: 224 pages
      Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (4 Aug 2005)
      ISBN: 0141017767
      RRP: £7.99

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    • Product Details

      Horace Rumpole - cigar-smoking, claret-drinking, Wordsworth-spouting defender of some unlikely clients - often speaks of the great murder trial which revealed his talents as an advocate and made his reputation down at the Bailey when he was still a young man. Now, for the first time, the sensational story of the Penge Bungalow Murders case is told in full: how, shortly after the war, Rumpole took on the seemingly impossible task of defending young Simon Jerold, accused of murdering his father and his father's friend with a German officer's gun. And how the inexperienced young brief was left alone to pursue the path of justice, in a case that was to echo through the Bailey for years to com