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.