When I received the request to review Frame Up by James Phoenix I had just finished reading Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and was tempted by the Frame Up’s description. “The death in 2010 of Robert B. Parker, the Dean of American Crime Fiction, left a giant void in the hard-boiled detective mystery genre built by luminaries like Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald. James Phoenix continues the tradition of the tough, wisecracking, private detective with Frame Up, the first in the Fenway Burke Mystery Series.” I don’t think Fenway Burke is going to become one of those famous, genre-defining detective, but Frame Up is enjoyable enough.

Fenway Burke is a down and out detective, living alone on his houseboat and drinking too much when his childhood pal Tiny Dan Murphy, a major Boston bookie, asks for help exonerating Shawn Corbett, a family friend who was convicted of murder. Fenway takes the case. Corbett is definitely a bad guy, but Fenway is quickly convinced is innocent of this charge at least from early on. Danger abounds, of course, as Fenway digs into the case drawing the attention of a powerful millionaire, a crooked cop, and a high-priced hitman, all try to get him to lay off. As with any good fictional detective though, the more resistance Fenway faces, the more determined he is to get to the bottom. And he’s got Tiny and his comrades behind him, with lots of guns and muscle. And of course there are the obligatory shoot-outs and even a bomb or two.

The plot rolls along well, it’s pretty obvious that it’s a set-up, but the trick is discovering the details and finding the evidence. Who’s paying off who and why? I actually was a bit surprised by the ending.

The characters are the draw in this one. Burke is a stereotypical detective to some degree, a tough guy not afraid to collaborate with some rather shady characters, determined to find the truth no matter the consequences, but I like his dogs and his relationships with his friends. Tiny is quite a character. He seems to have unlimited resources, sometimes on the wrong side of the law, but a solid kinda guy.

Megan Griffin is our female lead, the public defender who first handled Corbett’s case when she was new to the job. she’s sexy, smart, worried about Burke, but to be honest, I could have done without the romance. It just didn’t fit the style of the book. It’s aiming to be a hard-boiled detective novel, and truly falling in love, making the relationship actually work in the long run is not typical.

My other complaint is the time-frame. The story takes over like a couple of years, but long periods of time are just glossed over, while Burke recuperates from a beating or goes on holiday. I got a little confused on the time-line I guess. a six month time span would have been easier to keep clear in my mind.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy Frame Up. The plot’s solid and the quick-moving story kept my attention. You can read the first three chapters on the author’s website.

3 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery – Detective


Fenway Burke #1
Published September 2012 by Grey Swan Press
264 pages

Book source: For review

Fenway Burke Series

  1. Frame Up
  2. Loose Ends (expected June 2013)
  3. Kestrel (expected June 2014)

Thrill Week is hosted at Tea Time with Marce.


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