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In appreciation of John Mortimer

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If the phrase "She who must be obeyed" brings an immediate smile of recognition to your lips you are probably, like me, a fan of John Mortimer. The British author passed away yesterday at his home outside London the age of 85.

Mortimer had two starring roles in life: as both a lawyer and a writer.  Mortimer's literary output was prodigious – including books, screen and stage plays, radio and TV dramas – but he will be best remembered for Horace Rumpole, the crusty British barrister whose fans followed him for years through dozens of books, short stories, and TV episodes.

Rumpole loved cigars, wine, poetry, and cases that looked impossible. His specialty was providing defense for the underdog – often a denizen of a low-life criminal world that seemed oceans apart from the upper-middle-class respectability of Rumpole's domestic life.

Mortimer's own legal career (he worked in the British court system starting in the 1940s and handled some high-profile cases, including defending the publisher of D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" against obscenity charges in the 1960s) informed the Rumpole stories, as did Mortimer's love of the law.

Although fearless in court, Rumpole generally cowered at home when confronted by his wife ("She who must be obeyed") and the combination of wit, wisdom, and wry poignance in which Mortimer wrapped the Rumpole stories kept readers ever eager for the next.

Rumpole's longevity was impressive. The first Rumpole book, "Rumpole of the Bailey," appeared in 1978. Rumpole went on to appear in at least 20 more books (not counting several omnibus editions.) Mortimer's last Rumpole title, "The Antisocial Behaviour of Horace Rumpole," was published last year.


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