Grahame Weatherby, a man with a distinct birthmark on his face, plans sees an exotic Russian prostitute for some much need companionship. When he goes to see her, she is dead, strangled. Everyone is already dead set on Weatherby’s guilt except for one man.
Horace Rumpole, the oldest junior barrister, is having a lull in work and takes the case to defend a child’s ASBO case, only to lose it. Downhearted, little would he know how that small case would help him defend a low level government official, accused of murdering a prostitute through manual strangulation. While defending this case, Rumpole’s attempt of taking silk might be in jeopardy as he faces his own ASBO as well as his wife, Hilda (She Who Must Be Obeyed), has her eyes set on joining the bar and is bewildered by the idea of children playing football has become a criminal offence.
John Mortimer is on his usual good form as this Rumpole novel takes a wry look at the Blair government, Anti Social Behaviour laws and attacks the ancient freedoms of man. Mainly being able to eat steak ‘n’ kidney pie, smoke awful cigars and drink glasses of Chateau Thames Embankment in his office, in peace and quiet.
The Weatherby case is complicated and one of Rumpole’s most toughest to defend. Public opinion is set that this civil servant had done the deed with newspapers attacking the trail as a waste of public money, that Weatherby should be simply sentenced and thrown into prison. Though Rumpole has a hunch that he is innocent and merely another victim in a larger plot but he has to dig deeper. He needs to find how his Russian prostitute came into this country and what she did to result in her murder.
Weatherby is not the only person faced with a prison term. Rumpole is sent a ASBO for eating pie and drinking awful claret in his office; an ASBO that he ignores and now must argue his toughest case, his own.
As well as tackling how the law ignores the clear articles of Magna Carter, mainly imprisoning citizens without a trail of their peers, this Rumpole novel looks at age and change. In Mortimer’s later work, this becomes a recurring theme as Rumpole’s world changes while he, stubbornly refuses to change with it. From missing the old days where you could drink good claret and eat (or drink) Windsor soup on a train to being sentenced without a trial or forgetting that you’re innocent until proven guilty.
Rumpole is constantly faced with an uphill battle of a changing world and, through his advocacy and trickery, he manages to win a number of those little battles. However, there is a sad inevitability that at some point, he will lose.
Narrated by the late, great Bill Wallis, better known to audiences as Ploppy the Jailer in Blackadder the Third, he takes to the dialogue and mannerisms of Rumpole brilliantly. He does not simply narrates this novel but performs it wonderfully. Rumpole has been performed by a number of actors but, in my humble opinion, is the best.
As usual, John Mortimer tackles the changing environment of our legal system as well as society, the Anti Social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole is a fantastic novel and performed by a brilliant actor. I highly recommend this audiobook; hilarious and thrilling, you will find yourself wishing you were accused of a horrible crime just so you can have the pleasure of meeting Rumpole.