Books by John Mortimer

John Mortimer is a playwright, novelist, and former practicing barrister. During World War II he worked with the Crown Film Unit and published a number of novels before returning to law. He has written for film, stage, radio, and television, and is the au

Released: Nov. 20, 2006

"The rollicking means by which Rumpole wangles a jury trial, in which he can learn what his client is accused of and then get him acquitted, shed no light on the graver conflicts between state security and individual freedom, but there's never any doubt which side Mortimer is on."
Horace Rumpole forgoes his usual diet of lowlife clients (Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, 2004, etc.) to defend an accused terrorist, with predictably lightsome results. Read full book review >
QUITE HONESTLY by John Mortimer
Released: March 27, 2006

"A witty Brit bagatelle and a romantic comedy tailor-made for the multiplex."
Fate throws together a cinematically mismatched pair; Cupid deftly aims his arrows; cute fun ensues. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 22, 2004

"The real and considerable joys here are watching Rumpole spread his wings and observing, in what passes for his courtship of Hilda, the seeds of his thrall to She Who Must Be Obeyed."
Finally, it can be told: the vaunted case that launched the loosest cannon in the English legal system on his nonpareil career (Rumpole and the Primrose Path, 2003, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 2003

"Not by a long shot Rumpole's finest hour, but his many fans will share his wife's pleasure in the fact that he's come back at all."
Like Sherlock Holmes, Horace Rumpole has returned from the grave (Rumpole Rests His Case, 2002), commencing with his no-nonsense escape from the dubious convalescent home in which he's been immured. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 25, 2002

"The only real disappointment is the title story, which sends Rumpole on what may be a one-way trip to hospital. If it turns out to be his swan song, it's an unusually muted performance, quite apart from the sorrow of thinking it might be his last."
Everyone's favorite barrister, back in chambers after an absence of six years (Rumpole and the Angel of Death, 1996, etc.), proves once more that you don't need much in the way of mystery to provide rollicking legal entertainment. In fact, the one time Rumpole flirts most openly with traditional mystery-mongering, his defense of a teenaged computer geek accused of molesting his childhood friend, the solution is painfully obvious. The other six stories here are variously triumphant comedies of the proletarian last-chance defender's extended family. Soapy Sam Ballard, the head of chambers, turns out to have an awkward secret in his past that Rumpole plans to leverage into permission to smoke his beloved cheroots. Claude Erskine-Brown's philandering, continuing into his marriage, places Rumpole in the unaccustomed position of domestic advocate for his witless colleague. Dogged investigator Fig Newton shadows a mysterious man to a rendezvous with Mrs. Justice Phillida Erskine-Brown. Rumpole takes the case of a physician pleading with curious detachment for political asylum and an actor whose penchant for overripe performance doesn't stop when he takes the stand. Familiar but unloved faces from the past resurface, each with unwholesome designs on the scruffy champion of the very, very guilty everyone would rather brief than a proper barrister. Read full book review >
Released: June 4, 2001

"Pure pleasure."
In the third installment of his autobiography, the ex-barrister Mortimer (The Sound of Trumpets, 1999, etc.) focuses on a year spent as a scriptwriter for hire, fundraiser for the Royal Court Theater, advocate for penal reform, and crippled, nearly blind old liberal staggering around Tony Blair's new Britain. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 10, 1999

In his third installment of The Rapstone Chronicles, the prolific Mortimer (Paradise Postponed, 1986; Titmuss Regained, 1990, etc.) offers a light, dryly amuisng tableau of contemporary English politics featuring his always-scheming hero, Leslie Titmuss, a Thatcherite out of office but never, it seems, far from power. After sorting out the party names and positions, the reader settles into a harmless comedy of duplicity, betrayal, power, and, of course, sex. As in the two preceding satires, the center of political gravity is "Lord" Titmuss, whose appetite for revenge against his party's unfaithful liberals is given an opening with the highly suspicious death by drowning of the Hartscombe and Worsfield South MP. The race is on to fill the dead MP's seat, and Titmuss engages in a strange alliance with Terry Flitton, the Tony Blair—esque, reformed Socialist New Labour candidate. Mortimer wickedly recounts the hedging, omissions, and fabrications endemic to successful political life while arming Titmuss with the more damaging knowledge of Flitton's extramarital affair with Agnes, a Socialist bookseller of high principle who becomes Flitton's nominal conscience. A skeletal subplot involves the Skurfield Young Offender's Institution, headed by the closeted homosexual Paul Fogarty, one of whose inmates figures in the opening death. In a neat fold of plot, the election turns on Flitton's outing Fogarty (at Titmuss's behest), losing both Agnes and his wife Kate, and winning office. The fun doesn—t stop here, though: the story's unresolved issues are lined up in a neat row with the flaws and faults of Flitton, who himself topples conclusively when Titmuss flattens him—on national TV, no less. Mortimer has the attractive ability to write about politics without the brow-furrowing gravity or campy absurdity so often found in American political fiction. He inhabits an entertaining place where there is much to smile at, not so much to think about, and almost nothing to complain too loudly about. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

A diverting mixture of murder mystery, character study, and social comedy from the enduringly popular British author of TV's Rumpole of the Bailey and also such novels as Dunster (1993) and Paradise Postponed (1986). Felix Morsom, a genteel and critically respected novelist known as ``the Chekhov of Coldsands'' (and, just possibly, suggested by the real-life figure of William Trevor?), finds his quiet life radically overturned when during a book signing he's confronted by a woman who declares him the father of her 11-year- old son. When Felix and a friend of the putative mother are overheard exchanging threats, and the latter is soon thereafter found bludgeoned to death (or so it seems), Felix goes into hiding among a memorably seedy array of homeless vagrants, is later captured and brought to trial—and changed in ways he couldn't possibly have foreseen when the mystery is at last solved and the verdict delivered. Mortimer populates this breezy and ever-so- slightly superficial story with a number of crucially involved and vividly sketched supporting characters, including Felix's lissome publicist Brenda Bodkin, the trashy lady novelist Sandra Tantamount, whose heavy-breathing bestsellers keep Felix's publisher's (Llama Books) afloat, a married bisexual publisher's rep, a genial rent boy who goes by the street name ``Yorkie Bar,'' and Felix's solicitor (not to mention Yorkie's), the not altogether trustworthy Septimus Roache. The novel is further graced by several wonderfully convincing scenes set in London's dÇclassÇ ``underworld,'' and by some delicious mockery of the byzantine intrigue that dominates the literary life (Llama Books, for example, is thrilled at the prospect of marketing one of its authors as ``a suspected murderer begging in the street''). Mortimer ties up all these loose ends expertly, and ends on a surprisingly effective sentimental note. Top-drawer escapist fare, from one of the most dependable entertainers in the business. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1996

Six more briefs for the indomitable defender of the guiltiest-looking defendants the Old Bailey has ever seen. As Phillida Erskine-Brown, the former Portia of Our Chambers now elevated to the Bench, puts it: ``Rumpole's always at his best in a hopeless case.'' Though this season's crop of stories shows all too little of Phillida, her philandering Q.C. husband Claude, Mizz Liz Probert, and Soapy Sam Ballard, it gives Rumpole more than his share of hopeless cases, most of them interlarded with such unlikely contemporary social issues as racism, gender awareness, animal rights, euthanasia, and corporate efficiency. Sadly, most of these issues get worked out on the sidelines, or compete for attention with the cases Rumpole's supposedly giving his full attention, and no story stands out either as mystery or comedy. The bonus here, ``Hilda's Story,'' gives Mrs. Rumpole, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the chance to recount Rumpole's defense of an alleged parricide from her own point of view. The effect is as revelatory as in those few Sherlock Holmes stories that Watson doesn't relate; you can see what a priceless asset Rumpole's storytelling voice has been all these years. If the plots seem dustier than usual and the puppets slow to awaken from their rest since their last performance (Rumpole on Trial, 1992), none of Rumpole's legion of fans is likely to complain. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1995

Following Clinging to the Wreckage (1982), a bracing and bounteous second helping of the British barrister/writer's life, works, and many, many opinions. The paramount lesson he learned from his ``second life'' as a Queen's Counsel defending accused criminals in jury trials, Mortimer says, was the value of suspending judgment on people inside the courtroom and out. Don't believe him for a minute. Though he could coolly defend the merits of books like The Return of the Enema Bag Rapist or or the innocence of a youth who claimed the gent he stabbed to death—a man on his way home from dinner with his fiancÇe—had been assaulting his virtue, Mortimer evidently never lost the habit of passing judgment, as the racy tone of each tart anecdote reveals again and again. His career as a playwright brought him together with Tony Richardson, Robert Graves, Laurence Olivier, and David Niven, each of whom hurtles through this memoir in an acid-tipped cameo. And his convictions as an unrepentant socialist and an ``atheist for Christ'' flavor his stinging remarks on Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Michael Heseltine, and the British passion for locking up people in prisons. Not that this passion for judgment extends to constructing a coherent argument on behalf of his own life. As he spends less and less time in the courtroom and more and more at the typewriter, his stream of reminiscences, always sketchy on dates and sequences, becomes, if anything, still more disjointed. Mortimer finds that Rex Harrison will—no, he won't—be playing his father onstage, invents the inimitable Rumpole of the Bailey, and interviews a passionate defender of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, but never forgets to place his own prickly sensitivity and his fine sense of the absurd at center stage. An endearing ragbag of recollections snapping into focus at warp speed. (30 photos, not seen) Read full book review >
DUNSTER by John Mortimer
Released: Jan. 1, 1993

Mortimer (Titmuss Regained, 1991, etc.) returns with a neatly plotted, fast-paced entertainment—a mix of suspense and social comedy that disturbs stereotypes by pitting an overly zealous muckraking journalist against a sympathetic pillar of the Establishment. Narrator Philip Progmire is an amiable, passive fellow who didn't choose to be an accountant (his father-in-law got him the job at Megapolis Television) any more than he chose his wife Beth (Ophelia to his Hamlet at Oxford). Journalist Dick Dunster is his polar opposite, a hair shirt who despises success and fearlessly pursues the truth, even when it hurts friends and loved ones. He chose Philip as his friend when they were London schoolboys and remained an ``inescapable'' factor in his life until he absconded with Beth, leaving Philip to console himself in middle age with his teenaged daughter and amateur theatricals. There are the makings here of an arresting novel of character, but Mortimer concentrates instead on the suspense that arises when Dunster, writing a series on War Crimes for Megapolis, charges that its chairman, Sir Crispin (Cris) Bellhangar, was responsible for the deaths of women and children when he ordered a church demolished in northern Italy during WW II. Since Philip admires Cris, an unpretentious boss and honorable man, and is convinced that Dunster's allegations are worthless, he surprises himself by standing up to his old nemesis. Dunster is accused of libel; suspense builds with the tracking down of old soldiers and a surprise witness during the trial. The melodramatic denouement is a reminder of the moral complexity of battlefield decisions. The disappointment here is that Mortimer doesn't do much with Dunster, who recedes from view as the plot thickens; still, his latest is just provocative enough to keep readers alert and amused. Read full book review >
RUMPOLE ON TRIAL by John Mortimer
Released: Dec. 1, 1992

Seven more cases for the inimitably waggish defender Rumpole. As usual, each adventure mingles Rumpole's attempts to procure justice for his guilty-looking clients with disturbances in his domestic or professional circle—his invitation to visit the titled relatives of his wife (She Who Must Be Obeyed); his amatory pursuit by a cellist too pure-hearted to appreciate the virtues of Pommeroy's Plonk; the scheming of his colleague Phillida Erskine-Brown to elevate her nitwit husband Claude to Queen's Council; Mrs. Rumpole's purchase of a burglar alarm—that wily veteran Mortimer (Rumpole Ö la Carte, etc.) ties into the cases in variously ingenious ways. The first three stories are routine, but the last four (including a rare and expert short-short and the title story, wherein Rumpole faces dismissal from the bar) are delightful. Since the death of Rex Stout, no one's drawn so endearingly unchanging a portrait of any fictional detective's world. Vive Rumpole! Read full book review >
RUMPOLE A LA CARTE by John Mortimer
Released: Nov. 1, 1990

Half a dozen more stories featuring the inimitable Horace Rumpole, everyone's favorite barrister for the defense. Judged as detective fiction, Mortimer's work is as mediocre as ever: Rumpole's cases, whether pursued in court or on a cruise ship, are seldom mystifying, involving few suspects, fewer clues, and even fewer stock reversals. The mystery is always being crowded out by the background—the threat to allow solicitors to argue cases before the bench; Rumpole's battle of wills with an equally opinionated French-Irish chef; his running arguments with Mr. Justice Graves ("Mr. 'Get into Bed with the Prosecution' Graves"); his colleague Claude Erskine-Brown's witless philandering; the iron whims of his wife Hilda; and the tapestry of witty allusions and ironic remarks—in short, all the features Rumpole's admirers cherish. This collection pinks all the usual targets, provides all the usual pleasures, and includes two gems: "Rumpole for the Prosecution," in which the old reliable switches sides to prosecute a murder case, with amusingly disastrous results; and the title story, whose star performance is turned in by a mouse on luckless Claude's attractive dinner partner's covered tray at that chef's three-star restaurant. The mixture as before, hearty as Rumpole's beloved mashed spuds. Read full book review >