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Book Review: The Anti-Social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole by John Mortimer

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I wanted to read something light-hearted so I picked up this novella (just about 200 pages), and I was not disappointed. This is first book of Mortimer I have read.

The main character in this book is Horace Rumpole. He is a lawyer and is not popular among his colleagues because of his smoking and drinking in Chambers. (In England, Chambers are the rooms used by lawyers.)

Peter Timpson, a 12-year-old boy, is served an ASBO (Anti-Social Behavior Order), because of a complaint from a neighbor who is into “healing” profession. The complaint is that Peter plays soccer creating a ruckus in the neighborhood. Rumpole decides to defend Peter. He is also defending Graham Wetherby who is accused of murdering a prostitute. The prostitute is an illegal immigrant. I liked the way Mortimer interconnects the two cases and comes to a conclusion.

Meanwhile, Rumpole himself is facing with the possibility of being served with an ASOD for his drinking and wining in the chambers.

The character sketch of Rumpole, which Mortimer has depicted, is enjoyable. Rumpole is a kind-hearted fellow as obvious from the sympathy he has for Peter and from the incident where he ponders upon the illegal immigration case, where a girl is packed in a box like “jars of mango chutney.” The contrasting personality of being a rebel but being kind-hearted at the same time is what makes him likable. Another reason for his popularity is his satirical voice, for instance, when a senior accuses Rumpole of being the cause of global warming, Rumpole’s thoughts are: “… I lit another small cigar and wondered if, as I struck the match, I could hear the distant sound of an iceberg melting or at least the Thames lapping at the door.”

It is also amusing to see the imperfections of Mrs Rumpole. She is obsessed with her social standing which depends on whether Rumpole can become a senior lawyer. And in the end we find out whether he is able to achieve that.

On the whole, this novella is an enjoyable read because of the humor and the neat plot.

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  • jeanette harris

    BBC had a long-running program, Rumpole of the Bailey, which was an absolute delight. Leo McKern was perfect as the main character and, just as in the books, we tune into his thoughts via voice-over.