Rumpole of the Bailey is familiar to us from his later years as an old warhorse, a Falstaffian character living a life of crime (defending criminals), drinking Chateau Thames Embankment at Pommeroy’s wine bar, and sparring with recalcitrant judges, fellow members of his Chambers, and She Who Must Be Obeyed: his long-suffering wife, Hilda. He has often alluded to his first great case, the Penge Bungalow Murders, when alone and without a leader, he successfully saved a young man from hanging for a double murder.
At last, Rumpole has seen fit to write this volume of his memoirs. Some of the book takes place in the present day, as Rumpole is harassed by Hilda and some of his less likeable colleagues. Most of the book brings us back to the early 1950s, when the Second World War was still fresh in everyone’s minds. Two former bomber pilots are found dead. The circumstantial evidence all points to the 21-year-old son of one of the pilots. He is to be defended by C.H. Wystan, the head of Chambers, and his junior, young Rumpole. Wystan thinks the case hopeless and mounts an anemic defense. Rumpole eventually gets himself appointed as the sole brief for the defendant and wins the day. Along the way, we learn how Hilda (Wystan’s daughter) set her sights upon the unwitting Rumpole and see Rumpole’s first encounter with the numerous Timson clan of minor villains, who will provide Rumpole with so much future work.