FRAME UP by John F. Dobbyn
“Listen to me, Michael. There’s not a client in this world that’s worth your getting killed. Or even slightly maimed. You start being a lawyer and stop playing the Green Hornet.”
“Never mind. I forget you’re an adolescent. You know what I’m saying.”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (APR 18, 2010)
Michael Knight may be too young to remember the Green Hornet, but this junior partner in the Devlin and Knight law firm spends a lot more time in Frame Up risking his life than he does cross-examining witnesses in a courtroom. In fact, his first act in Chapter One is to struggle back to consciousness to the voice of his anxious father-figure senior partner, Lex Devlin. Mr. Devlin, as Michael always calls him, tells the younger man he’s in Mass General Hospital and is “a roadmap of lacerations around the face.” Michael was wounded when a car he was walking toward exploded and he was “hit with something that felt like the defensive front line of the New York Patriots.” But it isn’t Michael’s injuries that pain him the most. Inside that car had been his best friend, John McKedrick.
Only a few days later Michael is up and around and attending John’s funeral. Also there is Benny Ignola, “legal counsel to the lower-to-middle-level Mafia” in Boston and the guy for whom John, also an attorney, had been working. Michael had been urging John to break away from his underworld ties, and recently he’d thought his friend might actually do it. Benny knows Michael and Lex Devlin steer a wide berth around mob work, but he nevertheless cryptically insists that he and Michael will need to talk.
Ignola is small organized crime potatoes, and someone Michael thinks he can ignore. But there are others who can’t be so easily dismissed: Michael soon gets the dubious “honor” of meeting powerful godfather Dominic Santangelo who, forty years ago, was like a brother to Lex Devlin and then-fighter-now-Catholic-priest Matt Ryan. Monsignor Ryan gathers them together again because Santangelo’s son has been arrested for John McKedrick’s car bomb murder. The old mob boss has no doubt in the world that his son, who has deliberately stayed out of his father’s business, is innocent. With the possibility that someone in his own organization has turned on him, Santangelo needs someone he can trust to represent his son.
Naturally, Santangelo’s request is one neither Mr. Devlin nor Michael want to touch with a ten-foot pole. However, the priest helps them see a slim chance of working good from all this, so reluctantly they take the case. It falls to Michael to start putting together the pieces of how the Santangelo kid, Peter, and his friend John are connected. Pretty soon, Michael is playing a life and death game with very ruthless people. And he does play games, gadding about setting up high-risk stings, trying to play off one international mob boss against others. Somehow, he and others in his vicinity (including a young woman whom he is trying to date) nearly meet their Maker on more than one occasion, and even though Mr. Devlin orders him to stop taking such foolhardy chances, Michael can’t cease his determination to play every deadly hand.
Coincidentally, John F. Dobbyn’s Frame Up happens to share some plot ideas with David Hosp’s Among Thieves. Now I don’t know about you, but my first choice for a legal thriller set in Boston and rife with Mafia figures would probably not revolve around art works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. But these two authors did make that choice. Hosp directly links his story to the real, still unsolved theft of paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He even involves real mobster James “Whitey” Bulger * in his version of events. Dobbyn is more round-about; he doesn’t mention the Gardner Museum by name, and he merely describes one of the missing paintings. But in both novels, members of the mob have gotten themselves in deep you-know-what by trying to make windfall profits from either the original works or their counterfeits. In both books, merciless killers from Europe are after smaller-scale con men or crooks who have allegedly defrauded them. And in both, decent lawyers find themselves nearly in over their heads as they try to defend clients somehow mixed up with the famous art work, and have to use their smarts to try to outwit their bloodthirsty opponents. In Michael’s case, this means working with Benny Ignola, a desperate art forger, and going to Amsterdam to find out what his friend, John, might have sequestered there, all the while dodging hit men and death traps.
Young Michael Knight is more of a crusader at heart than Hosp’s older, somewhat jaded Scott Finn. But, unlike Scott, jaunty Michael seems to think he has an endless supply of lives to dangle in front of the bad guys. Even though he gives lip-service to Mr. Devlin’s demand that he stop doing things that could kill him, he would rather take the chances than return to the office without justice for those he represents, those he loves, and those who would spit on justice if they could.
Frame-Up distinguishes itself as crime fiction with deeply Catholic men as its heroes (and some of its gangsters too). It features law partners who view the world as God’s creation where Man is responsible for his actions and where brotherhood, honor, love, and humanity all matter dearly. Retribution, and, more importantly, redemption, have not lost their meanings in this world either. This is a refreshingly straightforward moral framework that engenders respect for Devlin and Knight, just as they feel it for each other in their own father/son way. Although Michael’s ability to stay alive does stretch credibility (in the same way many thriller heroes’ actions do), he’s an attorney who’ll fight for what’s right even if he has to do it unconventionally. What more could one want?
*A note of interest: Just last month, a federal prosecutor pursuing this case said he didn’t think Bulger had anything to do with the crime.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 8 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Oceanview Publishing; 1 edition (March 1, 2010)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Frame Up|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||John F. Dobbyn|
|EXTRAS:||An interview with John F. Dobbyn|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:
Among Thieves by David Hosp