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.
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.