The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #15: Rumpole and the Golden Thread

For many more thoughts on how this book relates to touring around London visit my regular blog: The Scruffy Rube.

For me, Rumpole stories (written by ex-lawyer John Mortimer) will forever be stories about familiarity and comfort, both because those motifs appear repeatedly throughout the series, and because the evoke those feelings within myself. Rumpole the aging defense lawyer is happiest with the Oxford Book of English Verse (which he quotes with aplomb), a stubby cigar and a bottle of cheap wine. As he strives to acquit each and every client he takes on (no matter how nefarious or cold-hearted they appear to be), he maintains his twin beliefs in the golden thread of justice (that we all must be judged as innocent until proven guilty), and that we live in a world of petty indecencies that the educated among us must endure.

Rumpole and the Golden ThreadTo me, Rumpole always sounds like Leo McKern, in large part because I heard the Australian actor reading the stories while bouncing along Montanan highways and byways in our family minivan. But he will always remind me of my father, a big and burly man who giggled at jokes I didn’t understand and got a wistful look in his eye when the poetry started to course its way through the main character’s monologuing. I love the idea of a noble, true, unflappable lawyer devoted to asserting the power of the human mind and the human soul. These are lofty ideas, but they sound every bit as good in McKern’s voice as they did during my father’s lectures. Walking about London you see those same ideals, high peaks, noble, sturdy architecture designed to endure, and in so doing manage to impress. Sure there are new flashes of steel and gleaming glass, but the core of London is as eternal as it ever was, and as consistent as Rumpole himself.

This collection fell a little shy of my normal fondness. Two stories relied on the sort of “aha” revelations by confessing witnesses that feel more at home in an episode of Matlock. One of them sent the titular defender of innocence to a fictional African country that felt more like a hodgepodge of uncomfortable post-colonial stereotypes than good ol’ Mr. Rumpole story-telling. In all they weren’t my favorite Rumpole stories.

But they were Rumpole stories, and they were Rumpole stories that I was reading in the thick of the city, popping up the steps from the tube onto Tottenham Court Road or wandering down the byways past Fleet Street and the Old Bailey. It let me feel right at home in a foreign land, and I expect it will do the same for anyone else who picks the stories up generations from now.

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