Rumpole at Christmas: curmudgeonly stories for a heartwarming holiday

I'm a lifelong fan of Rumpole, John Mortimer's grumpy, poetry-spouting criminal defense barrister, star of books, TV, and radio. John Mortimer died in 2009, and Rumpole at Christmas was published last Christmas season, but I missed it then. I just picked up a copy and inhaled it in a day, and I'm back to tell you just how pleasurable it was.

Rumpole at Christmas consists of seven Christmas stories, all published in magazines or broadcast on radio between 2001 and 2007. Each is a perfect little Rumpole tale, in which the grumpy, fat lawyer confronts and rejects modernity, exposes hypocrisy, drinks a lot of cheap wine, smokes many cheap cigars, and allows just a sliver of sentimental softness to peek out amid the murders and crimes. Mortimer's Rumpole is witty and rhetorical, his internal monologue a perpetual rehearsal for a jury he hopes to sway with sly humour, generally at the expense of authority figures, faddish trends, and propriety.

Six of the stories are short enough to read aloud around a roaring fire over whiskeys, the seventh, Rumpole and the Health Farm Murder, is just the right length for reading before bed. I've been reading Rumpole since I was a boy, and while Mortimer left us a mountain of Rumpole stories, they'll never be enough.

Rumpole at Christmas


  1. I can’t help but look at that and think of Leo McKern. Which is a shame, because according to  McKern’s Wikipedia entry, he was pretty glum about that prospect. 

    1. Same here; I’m afraid McKern and Rumpole are completely synonymous, much like Alan Alda and Hawkeye.

      I guess if you’re going to own a part, you better be prepared for the part to own you.

  2. I somehow missed that John Mortimer died. Currently fighting back tears at my desk. I have loved the Rumpole books for a very long time.

  3. Rumpole is immortal, but I much preferred the feeling he was on this same earth as us, witnessing its vanity and absurdity, and never surrendering. 

    Got ‘Rumpole at Christmas’ last year, and am rationing myself, one story per Christmas for the next few years. Sweet to know others have the same soft spot, and if I could do so I would buy you each a glass of Chateau Thames Embankment to grease your merry skid through the holidays.

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