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Archive for Sunday, April 5, 1998

MORTIMER SHOWS COMMAND OF LANGUAGE

April 5, 1998

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Felix in the Underworld

John Mortimer

The most literate work of fiction I've read in quite some time, ``Felix in the Underworld'' (Viking, $22.95) chronicles the unsettling and unpredicted descent of Felix Morsom, who falls rapidly from a comfortable but unexciting writer's life in Coldsands-on-Sea into the shadowy world of the London street people, and eventually unjust incarceration.

The chain of events that overturn Felix's comfortable life begins with a tape received in the mail that describes a life destroyed by PROD, the Parental Rights and Obligations Department. Gavin, who sent him this tape, initiates further encounters and eventually introduces the author to Miriam, who claims that Felix is the father of her 10-year-old child.

Suddenly, Felix himself is ensnared by PROD, which demands an immense child maintenance payment. When Felix reacts by making vicious verbal threats to all parties involved, he finds himself a prime suspect when Gavin is found murdered. Further revelations, which I won't mention here, complicate this inventive plot.

The insights into the British justice system are very accurate -- as well they should be since John Mortimer is a former practicing barrister and the creator of the beloved ``Rumpole of the Bailey'' collections, wonderfully adapted for television and aired for many years on PBS' Mystery.

A successful playwright and novelist, Mortimer's exquisite command of language makes his writings a pure delight.

Mortimer's social philosophies, strikingly represented by Horace Rumpole, who soldiered on for many years at the Old Bailey, always to defend his clients, is evidenced here as well. Mortimer paints a very sympathetic picture of the down-and-out life of London's street people.

A very fine mystery and recommended.

-- Bruce Flanders, director of the Lawrence Public Library

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