Rumpole and the Reign of Terror

Rumpole of the Bailey is as a much an English institution as tea and scones, warm beer and discussions about the weather. Over thirty years the author John Mortimer has attempted to keep Rumpole’s short stories as up-to-date and as relevant as possible. As such over the years he has struggled with official secrets; feminist politics, the internet and the countryside alliance. Keeping to such an agenda in Reign of Terror, Rumpole challenges the new anti-terrorism laws, political corruption and racism. In many ways the story is traditional Rumpole; not only does he defend another member of the infamous Timson family, but he gets to defend a Pakistani born doctor Mahmoud Khan who has been arrested on suspicion of terrorism. Not only is Mahmoud imprisoned but the authorities rather unhelpfully refuse to disclose the reasons why, making it rather difficult to say the least, for a defence to be advanced. This also brings Rumpole face to face with a Home Secretary who has allowed power to change his priorities in life.

Shocked by the apparent infringement on human rights Rumpole takes on the case, the law and the government.

In a rather novel departure from his normal formula for these books, Mortimer allows Hilda, she of “she who must be obeyed” fame to share a large amount of the limelight with her husband. As such we see the first extracts of the memoirs of Hilda Rumpole who it would seem is on the verge of an affair with one of Rumpole’s arch-enemies and frequent sparring partner his Honour Judge Bullingham (the Old Bull).

I have been an enormous fan of the light comedy attached to the Rumpole series of books, and it is with a tinge of sadness that I must criticise the novel. It is clear that Mortimer is not only disappointed with New Labour, but disgusted with some of its recent policy decisions on how best to deal with terrorism whilst maintaining a natural balance with the rights of the individual. It may well be that Mortimer has a point, from a defence barrister’s perspective recent legislation does appear to alter the basic principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, especially where “terrorists” are involved. However, reading this novel you get the feeling that Mortimer has rather over-egged the pudding. The novel for the first time in the series appears more Mortimer than Rumpole and in that way is rather over-indulgent. Far too much anti-New Labour language and if you excuse the pun somewhat laboured in its telling.

Whilst this is not perhaps Rumpole at his best, it is a fun, easy to read yarn; to be read over a glass or two of Pommeroy’s Chateau Thames Embankment of course.  

 Rumpole and the Reign of Terror is published by Viking for the price of £18.99

ISBN 0-670-91621-8