Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer (Viking 2009)

Nothing alarming happened on the Tube on my way home that evening, except for the fact that, owing to a “work to rule” by the drivers, the train gave up work at Victoria and I had to walk the rest of the way home to Froxbury Mansions in the Gloucester Road. The shops and their windows were full of glitter, artificial snow and wax models perched on sleighs wearing party dresses. Taped carols came tinkling out of Tesco’s. The chambers meeting had been the last of the term, and the Old Bailey had interrupted its business for the season of peace and goodwill.

There was very little of either in the case which I had been doing in front of the aptly named Mr Justice Graves. Mind you, I would have had a fairly rough ride before the most reasonable of judges. Even some compassionate old darlings like Mr Justice “Pussy” Proudfoot might have regarded my client with something like horror and been tempted to dismiss my speech to the jury as a hopeless attempt to prevent a certain conviction and a probable sentence of not less than thirty years. The murder we had been considering, when we were interrupted by Christmas, had been cold-blooded and merciless, and there was clear evidence that it had been the work of a religious fanatic.

The victim, Honoria Glossop, Professor of Comparative Religion at William Morris University in East London, had been the author of a number of books, including her latest, and last, publication Sanctified Killing—A History of Religious Warfare. She had been severely critical of all acts of violence and aggression—including the Inquisition and the Crusades—committed in the name of God. She had also included a chapter on Islam which spoke scathingly of some ayatollahs and the cruelties committed by Islamic fundamentalists.

It was this chapter which had caused my client, a young student of computer technology at William Morris named Hussein Khan, to issue a private fatwa. He composed, on one of the university computers, a letter to Professor Glossop announcing that her blasphemous references to the religious leaders of his country deserved nothing less than death—which would inevitably catch up with her. Then he left the letter in her pigeonhole.
(From 'Rumpole and the Christmas Break')

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