Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer








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Leave it to John Mortimer to keep Horace Rumpole up to date in the defense of the legal rights of individuals. In Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, Rumpole faces the frustration of trying to defend a client who is suspected of terrorism. Everything that Rumpole has learned about the law is turned upside down by the provisions of the British Anti-Terror Act. The Timsons are tied into the story, as fans would expect, and Rumpole faces challenges that would be insurmountable to lesser men. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 4, pp. 14-17:


Tiffany Khan once, somehow improbably, Tiffany Timson sat on the edge of my client’s chair in cham­bers as though prepared to rush off at any moment in search of the husband she seemed to believe I would have no difficulty in rescuing. As I have said, she had darker hair and eyes than the rest of the Timsons and when she spoke it was in a soft and gentle voice which I thought she might have caught, in part, from her Pakistani husband.

Her story was both simple and alarming. About twelve years ago she had got a job as a secretary at Oakwood, a north London hospital. It was there she had met Dr Khan, who was some fifteen years older than Tiffany, and they’d fallen in love, married and had two children, a boy of ten and a girl of eight.

Mahmood Khan’s father had come to England in the 1970s and started a small corner shop just off the Edgware Road. His success then led to his acquiring more corner shops and he sent money back regularly to his family in Pakistan.

He also acquired a highly desirable residence, a fairly large house ‘on the better side of Kilburn’. While he was living there, his wife died and his only son, Mahmood (Tiffany’s husband), left Pakistan to join him in England.

Mahmood had qualified as a doctor in Pakistan but he was forced to leave the country of his birth because, Tiffany said, ‘he had become involved in politics, which is a risky thing to do in Pakistan’. Tiffany wasn’t at all clear what exact form her husband’s politics took, but they clearly met with the outright disapproval of the Pakistan government. He told her he’d been in danger of prison, and this was when he managed to escape from his country, Tiffany said, ‘by a few disguises and a long walk across the mountains’, and made his way to England, where his father had organized an immigrant’s visa.

In the course of time the father’s businesses began to fail and he had to sell off the corner shops. That was the bad news. The good news was that Mahmood had sufficient qualifications to practise as a doctor in England and had got a post at Oakwood Hospital. It was no doubt, as Tiffany said, because Mahmood’s father was so overcome with the happiness of the occasion that he had died on the night of their wedding, leaving his son the desirable house in Kilburn. Although he was permitted to remain in England and work here as a doctor, Mahmood, like his father, never became a British citizen.

There seemed to have been no blot on the contented life of the young Khan family until that dreadful morn­ing when the police called early at the Kilburn house and Dr Mahmood met the fate he had managed to avoid in his native country. He was under arrest.

‘And not being a British subject, he’s liable to be deported.’ Bonny Bernard spoke in pessimistic and depressing terms, a process known to him as ‘preparing the client for the worst’. Tears welled in Tiffany’s eyes, which she wiped quickly away with the back of her hand as she went on with her story. They came for Mahmood Khan when Tiffany was getting their children ready for school and he was about to leave for the hospital. They were three police officers in plain clothes and they refused to explain why he was being arrested or where he was being taken. He, it seemed, was controlled and told her it must be some extraordinary mistake. It was only as they were going out of the house that one of the officers thought to announce that Mahmood was being arrested under the Terrorism Act. The last thing she heard him say was that the idea was ridiculous.

‘Have you any inkling why they took him?’ I asked her.

‘Because of what he is.’ She had no doubt about it.

‘You mean a terrorist?’

‘No. Pakistani. He’s a Paki. That’s why they’re against him. All my family are against him. Never mind what sort of trouble they get into with the police, I’ve done the worst crime. I’ve married a Paki.’

‘This government of ours,’ I had to tell her, ‘has done quite enough harm to our age-old and much-prized legal system, but I don’t think it has quite got to the stage of making the fact of having been born in Pakistan a crim­inal offence. My solicitor, Mr Bernard, will correct me if I’m wrong.’

‘Mr Rumpole’s quite right,’ Bonny Bernard reassured Tiffany, who clearly stood in great need of reassurance. ‘We must get to know which particular brand of terror­ism he’s accused of.’ My anxiety to comfort Tiffany had gone too far, as Bonnie Bernard was quick to point out. We may never know. The prosecution aren’t bound to tell us anything.’

‘Our present Home Secretary,’ I had to inform Tiffany, ‘in his wisdom, has relieved the prosecution of the trouble of making any charges at all.’

‘Fred Sugden.’ Bernard named the culprit, the same bright spark who had abolished the hearsay rule, to the great disadvantage of Percy Timson.

Tiffany looked puzzled, as though she hadn’t entirely understood what we had told her but she was sure it wasn’t good news. Then she saw a ray of hope.

‘If you want someone who’ll tell you Mahmood was no more a terrorist than I am, Mr Rumpole,’ she said, ‘there’s Barry.’

‘Barry who?’

‘Barry Whiteside, Oakwood Hospital’s administrator. They’ve always got on so well. He’s a real friend and I never heard Barry call anyone a Paki. Anyway, he’s married to a Paid like I am, Benazir. She’s lovely.’

‘Make a note, Bernard. We could do with a character witness.’

‘He’ll help Mahmood. I know he’ll help him.’

‘And I’ve got a few friends in the Home Office.’ Bernard tried to sound modest about it. ‘We should be able to discover where he is, at least.’

‘You’ll bring him back to me, Mr Rumpole?’ Tiffany was looking at me with her big dark eyes full of a trust I didn’t feel I had in the least deserved. ‘You’ll help me find Mahmood and get him out of trouble? All my family say you’re wonderful in court.’

‘Your family usually know what they are accused of,’ I had to tell her. ‘All the same, I’ll do my best.’


On the pages of Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, he certainly does do his best, and long-time and first-time readers will be pleased with the outcome.


Steve Hopkins, February 23, 2007



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