Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rumpole for the Defence

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Rumpole for the Defence (Penguin, 1982).

Somehow, I have been aware of Rumpole of the Bailey for decades without really being aware that the character was created for television, and his adventures were novelized as short stories by his creator, John Mortimer. I guess because just about all the other British TV series that made their way to PBS's Mystery! anthology were adaptations, I assumed that Rumpole was as well.

The third of the books, Rumpole for the Defence, is actually a novelization of a series of radio episodes that starred Maurice Denham as the belicose barrister Horace Rumpole. Were these half-hour stories? I've recently watched the twelve (hour-long) episodes of the first two seasons of the TV series, and those are much denser and rich with subplots and supporting characters than these flimsy little tales. These are nothing more than the coziest of cozies, simplistic and short, the outcomes never in doubt because in almost every story, there's either an honest prosecution of a genuinely guilty party, or Rumpole's defense will hinge on the one and only extra possibility given in the text. That's why I think these might have been half-hour radio episodes; there's just no room for subplots, for anything more that might prove important to the plot, and certainly no subtlety.

The usual Rumpole rules are followed: there are regular references to She Who Must Be Obeyed and the Penge Bungalow Murders, and the character's grouchy disrespect is contagious and fun, but I certainly wouldn't recommend these adaptations for anybody looking for something meaty. Stick with the television series, or possibly the short stories and novels that Mortimer penned after the TV series ended.

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