Thinking about the recent death of John Mortimer these last few days made me want to revisit grumpy old Horace Rumpole and I chose the audio version Mortimer’s 2004 prequel Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders figuring that it would offer an overview of the whole Rumpole series. It did that – and more.
The Penge Bungalow Murders is the perfect book to be reacquainted with Rumpole, in fact, because it presents the famous barrister at both ends of his illustrious career: as the young Rumpole working his first murder case only eighteen months after having been called to the bar, and as the elderly Rumpole writing his memoirs near the end of his career. Rumpole fans will have heard him boast of his triumph in the Penge Bungalow case in past books and will enjoy finally learning the details of that case and how a barrister as inexperienced as Rumpole came to work it alone.
The details of the case itself are interesting enough but this will not be a terribly difficult case for most readers to solve. Young Simon Jerold stands accused of shooting his World War II hero-father and his father’s friend to death shortly after the elder Jerold ridiculed his son, in front of a small group of war veterans, as not having the courage required to fight a war. Because Simon, in a rage, threatened to kill his father on the spot, he is charged with the murder and appears almost certain to be convicted and to receive the death penalty.
Mortimer uses the murder trial to show that Rumpole has not changed all that much over the decades and to introduce the recurring characters now so familiar to readers of the Rumpole short stories. Some of the best one-liners in the book come from the inner thoughts of Rumpole as he is forced to work with C.H. Wystan, the head of chambers and Rumpole’s future father-in-law, a man more concerned with following polite legal procedure than he is with saving his client’s life.
But the highlight of the book for most longtime Rumpole fans will be in meeting the young Hilda Wystan, the future “she who must be obeyed,” and watching the courtship that occurs. Not too surprisingly, Hilda is the one doing the courting because she sees something in Rumpole that will allow her to “make something of him,” and it is all over before Rumpole realizes that he is all but engaged to be married to young Miss Wystan.
Bill Wallis, the audio book reader, handles a wide variety of British accents with ease and uses his voice to create distinctive personalities for the book’s many characters. His presentation of Hilda makes her into a surprisingly likable character, leading one to understand why Rumpole put up so little resistance to her efforts to snare him - despite what he said in later years.
The world is definitely a poorer place without John Mortimer and new Horace Rumpole stories.
Rated at: 5.0