Walden of Bermondsey by Peter Murphy – the first of a series of fictional legal encounters in London

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Walden of Bermondsey by Peter Murphy

 

This is the first book of a series of books concerning the fictional accounts of life in Bermondsey Crown Court. Full of gentle humour, some revelations and non technical facts concerning the law, this book records several cases dealt with by Charlie Walden, Resident Judge. Married to the local vicar, the Reverend Mrs Walden, who sometimes weighs in with advice and a greater world experience, Charlie is an amiable and able judge who tries to find and keep the middle line, which is not always easy with all of human life which appears before him. Furthermore, he is plagued by the constant interruptions of the “Grey Smoothies”, more correctly known as the supervisory administrators from the civil service who are seemingly ignorant of the work actually carried out in the court, with their cost cutting and streamlining of the operations of the courts. He also has to supervise and sometimes restrain the activities of the other three judges, although he admires Judge Marjorie Jenkins, whose knowledge of the law and procedure frequently silence him. With Judge “Legless” whose particular skills and abilities are sometimes especially remarked on, and Judge Hubert Drake of uncertain vintage and Garrick club membership, the judicial crew are aided and abetted by several court functionaries. With frequent mention of those who supply daily food and newspapers, this community is able to withstand the various trials and tribulations that come its way, hoping always not to make the front page of the tabloid press in a negative way. This early collection of stories from the court introduces not only the characters in the building, but those who appear before them in every sense. It is well worth a read, not only for fans of Rumpole but also those who enjoy a somewhat sideways view of contemporary life.

 

The book opens with a surprising case of arson which rapidly assumes all the excitement of a mini soap opera. Meanwhile, Marjorie must deal with a fight in a rugby match, dismissed by the knowledgeable Legless. We learn that the defendent is always referred to as “Chummy” by the judges, a fact which later confuses a civil servant. Political punch ups later emerge, as do the risks of pretending to be a solicitor. “Artistic Differences” deals with the perils of portraiture, while matters of a recently formed state confuse everyone in another case. The final case in the book concerns the keeping of an unusual business above an otherwise respectable restaurant. Always in the background the community of the courts keeps throwing in challenges big and small, and it is only by good luck and literally good judgement that the show is kept on the road.

 

I have already read and reviewed the third book in this series, and my enjoyment of both suggests that they can be enjoyed as standalone reads. The humour is sometimes robust, always gentle, and small victories are duly celebrated in a satisfactory way. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the workings of the law in Britain, the complications of daily life, and enjoys a fictional memoir written in a humourous way. 

 

With today’s focus on legal judgements this is a very timely read, as well as being a gently amusing one.

Judge Walden – Call the Next Case by Peter Murphy – an effective and entertaining look at the law

Judge Walden – Call the Next Case by Peter Murphy

 

Fascinating fiction based on the strange but true world of the legal system has often been popular; but The Judge Walden stories have the advantage of being quietly brilliant. Having completed my first degree in law at Cambridge University, I think I have some insight into how difficult it can be to write in a human and engaging way about the law, especially without getting bogged down in obscure facts and arguments. The underlying story of this book, of a resident judge in Bermondsey, London who is happily married to a Vicar, is a solid background  for tales of people who get themselves entangled in the law, as well as the stories of how he runs the local court establishment. Although this is the third book in the series, it is a complete standalone book which may well just persuade the reader to get hold of the other two books. It is not only the law that is the subject here; the characters are so realistic that I was convinced that they were real in all their exasperating, surprising and intriguing actions. The dialogue is funny, crisp and varied, with the lawyers observing the rules with a running commentary from Charlie, and his judicial colleagues showing their real characters over disappointing lunches and battles with technology. The humour is gentle and always to the purpose, but there are also sad human stories sensitively handled. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.

 

This book begins with a case which deals with an elderly lady who has trusted a friend with money over several years. While not the most cheerful of stories, it does reveal much about the people involved in some skilful descriptions. A disturbing incident in a restaurant is full of information about salad making and jealousy, while another gives a serious view of astrology. My favourite was a rare excursion into the countryside for Walden, where the rules are reconsidered and expectations overturned.While each case is carefully looked at, in all its complexity and suspense, all are resolved but never neatly or in a predictable way. The running characters at home or at work ensure that Walden always has much to consider and attempt to reconcile to the various expectations of his life. 

 

It is difficult to convey adequately how immensely readable and enjoyable I found this book. I suggest it would appeal to those with little or no legal knowledge, as well as those with an interest in crime generally. Its humour, to be found in such catchphrases as lunch being “an oasis of calm in a desert of chaos”, often muttered ironically, is subtle but effective. The plotting of each story is impeccable, with many details and thoughtful asides. “Judge Walden” is a cunning but realistic judge, able to predict and understand many of the statements and questions raised in court, while showing the ability to react well to the challenges of effectively running a complex establishment, while giving due credit to the members of staff around him. There is undoubtedly a market for fictionalised actions of careers in teaching, medicine and other professions, and this look at the legal system in the twenty first century is undoubtedly educational as well as extremely entertaining.