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.