BOOKS: Shelf Life

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The Independent Culture
2 Our pic (inset) is of dear old Rumpole of the Bailey. Looks a lot like Leo McKern, doesn't he? That's because the stories in John Mortimer's Rumpole and the Angel of Death (Viking pounds 15) are thinly disguised treatments for a TV series. There is no plot without its humorous sub- plot. Thus in "Rumpole and the Way Through the Woods" the great man's defence of a hunt saboteur coincides with a stint of dog-sitting for a friend; in the title story, he defends a "Dr Death" and finds himself pondering his own mortality. There are a few running jokes. The wife is always known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, and feminists are always addressed as Mizz. In the woeful "... and the Model Prisoner" Rumpers trounces the Sisterhood of Radical Lawyers who persecute a barrister who called his female pupil fat, by threatening to reveal that the SRL's leader herself goes to a weight-reduction clinic and reads Hello! To do Mortimer credit, the suggestion that his genial hero is also a pompous idiot surfaces more than once.

2 A star's childhood is often the most obscure and interesting part of his story, and most biographers rightly do it justice. Not John Parker: his Richard Gere: The Flesh and the Spirit (Headline pounds 16.99) has just this to say: "Gere's childhood was normality personified." Not quite good enough. Gere's sister adds: "If you look at his baby pictures, you would see he was brooding at the age of two." Might have been nice to reproduce some, then, alongside the routine studio shots. This biography seems neither authorised nor unauthorised, but put together with the complete indifference of its subject. Parker's tone is mildly bitchy. He sneers on page one: "He was never averse to displaying the meat in his early days." The star's interest in Buddhism is relentlessly dismissed on the grounds that it bores his friends. It's intriguing, however, to discover that Gere had a seven-year romance with a fan who once stalked him, and that bizarre smears about his alleged sex practices originated on the Internet.