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Book Review: Frame-Up by John F. Dobbyn

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As long-time readers know, a book is definitely a great way to relax, but it doesn’t mean that the book itself has to be so dull and watered down that it literally relaxes you into a nap (that’s what law textbooks are for). It takes skill for a writer to perfect the blend of accessibility (which will prevent the reader from becoming discouraged and never finishing the book) and intrigue that will keep the reader guessing until the very end, his neurons palpitating while his frame relaxes into a comfortable sofa.

It’s a skill that John F. Dobbyn demonstrates in his new book, Frame-up. From the very first page, this legal thriller drags the reader into a world of lawyers and their mob-linked clients and keeps him there until the very last of its 278 pages.

Michael Knight of Devlin & Knight is a young criminal defense lawyer. His best friend, John McKedrick, is murdered in a car bombing that bears the signature of the mob. It seems like John McKedrick’s career path, meant to fast-track him to success, did anything but.

Michael’s partner and mentor, Mr. Devlin, becomes involved when the son of his childhood friend becomes accused of the murder. But Dominic Santangelo knows his son Peter had nothing to do with John McKedrick’s murder, and seeks legal council from Michael & Mr. Devlin. And the games begin – all this in the first twenty pages of Frame-up. And from then on, the action rarely (if ever) lets go.

John F. Dobbyn is as relentless an author as Michael Knight is relentless as a lawyer. The story grabbed me from the very first page and kept me guessing until the very end. There were some parts that were a little obvious, and others that seemed a little cliché, but it all made for a very realistic story; after all, life itself can be both quite obvious at time and quite cliché at others.

Frame-up (published by Oceanview Publishing) can be a little challenging to read at times. John F. Dobbyn writes in the language of those in know; so while the book is well-written, it can be something of a challenge for those who are either not lawyers or who are not in the habit of reading legal thrillers. It isn’t a surprise, since John F. Dobbyn is actually Professor Dobbyn of the Villanova Law School (since 1969). And while this can make for a challenging read, it ultimately adds to the story by delightfully stimulating one’s neurons – especially if you are reading in bed after a long, tough day.

Another added bonus is the couple of sections that will make you pause to reflect. For those of you who have been reading my reviews and blogs for the last couple of years, you won’t be surprised that I considered this an added and much appreciated bonus to Frame-up that I particularly enjoyed.

One section in particular stood out to me. In it, Dominic Santangelo, the don, is defending his actions by contrasting his pursuit of justice by the sometimes very inefficient pursuit of the same objective by Michael and Mr. Devlin in their chosen profession: “Michael, you and I and your partner, my old friend, are all from different heritages. Yes, I have power. I use the power to produce justice as I see it. Which of us is right? (…) Which power, mine or yours, produced justice?” Michael doesn’t say anything to this, but his thoughts are full: “I considered making the case for a democratic republic over a self-justifying tyrant whose every unquestioned whim was enforced in blood. I considered asking the don how many times he had used that power of violence for personal profit as opposed to unselfish justice. I also considered the futility of trying to convince this little Caesar that he somehow fell short of Solomon judging the Israelites. I vetoed all of it. There was no point in turning a very dicey moment into a high school civics class.”

The best part of this is that John F. Dobbyn didn’t make a huge deal out of the debate. He didn’t make his characters go on and on about it. Rather, he placed this nugget of information close enough to the beginning of the book (on page 55) that it’s specter floated throughout the entire book (in a good way, of course). It was a not so subtle but very well done way of infusing the story with meaning.

Frame-up is a great book to pick up if you are in for a relaxing yet interesting read. I would suggest taking it on a flight, as you will probably become so engrossed with it that you will not notice the various necessary annoyances air travel involves nowadays. By the same token, reading this book on your commute might not be the best of ideas, unless you live at the last stop, ensuring that you won’t miss it, thus cursing both John F. Dobbyn for writing it and myself for recommending it.

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