on Feb. 5, 2013 :
With “The Tinderbox,” David Holmberg, a veteran newspaperman, has turned out a kind of prequel to “The Hurricane Murders,” which he published in 2010. Both novels have as their protagonists a hardboiled newspaper reporter (though the characters are different). “The Tinderbox” was originally to be published by E.P. Dutton in 1989, but fell off their list when they merged with New American Library. It has finally found life as an e-book published by Smashwords.
In both novels, Florida is sweltering, both in temperature and temperament. The heat seems to make everyone crazy. In this case, the racially charged murder of a black youth by a Cuban policeman, Carino, lights the fuse of the tinderbox of the title. Mike Baedeker, a reporter for the Miami Times, observes much more than he or the police had planned, and he becomes caught in a violent web of racial politics. Other than him, there doesn’t seem to be anybody to root for; most of the characters are corrupt, cynical, sarcastic or violent. As experienced as he is, he is outgunned by the sheer force of people who hate him, or what he stands for. Like a Hitchcock character, he seems wrongly accused, by his colleagues, his girlfriend, the police and the community, though his only crime is in paving a road with good intentions.
Holmberg has a way of tossing off colorful descriptions, almost offhandedly, that paint a clear picture. He describes a hotel’s lobby as having “the kind of dreariness peculiar to the worst Beach hotels ... a smell of decay was mixed with the smell of suntan lotion.”
There are a few too many digressions, and many characters to keep track of, but occasionally Holmberg really gets the plot rolling. The character of Mulvaney, who has the thankless job of prosecuting Carino, is a small role, but particularly well written. He’s the kind of no-nonsense straight arrow you might see venting prosecutorial outrage on TV shows like “Law and Order,” and his cross-examination of Carino and summation demonstrate that Holmberg has a good ear for this type of dialogue. Although it was a different genre altogether, parts of the book are reminiscent of the old Darren McGavin TV show “The Night Stalker,” whose monster-battling newspaper protagonist had the same cynical but determined drive to get at the truth. That’s a trait shared by Jake Arnett, the hero of “The Hurricane Murders,” suggesting that with some tinkering, Holmberg might have a character on whom to pin a series, like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone or Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta.
A colleague suggested that the book might make a good movie. I’m not sure about that. Racism is the perpetual elephant in the room of American society, and most people are reluctant to discuss it, much less read a book or see a movie about it. More than 20 years after Rodney King plaintively asked, “Can we all get along?,” the unfortunate answer is still, for the most part, a resounding “No!” The re-election of President Obama notwithstanding, racism, by people of all ethnicities, is still a sad, dirty fact of American life.
This book poses more questions than it can answer, but that in itself might at least get people thinking.
(reviewed 78 days after purchase)
on Jan. 21, 2013 :
Atmospheric, fast-paced, and compelling, The Tinderbox is a great read! If you enjoy gritty urban settings and an insider's look at how the media, politics, and crime converge and collide, then this novel is definitely your cup of tea -- or shot of tequila!
The setting is Miami; is it a "poor man's paradise" or a tinderbox ready to go up in flames? Author David Holmberg skillfully weaves together the strands of two explosive events in a violent and vividly evoked Miami, where power plays can be dangerous and even deadly. Through the eyes of Mike Baedeker, a young reporter who's recently returned to his hometown searching for answers to his father's past and his own future, we see the seamy, tragic underside of a city that's being torn apart by forces beyond anyone's control. A journalist himself, Holmberg deftly probes the psyche of his likeable protagonist Baedeker, who's driven by his need to "make sense of things" even in a world that's collapsing around him. We feel Baedeker's frustration and compassion -- and come to understand what he cares about and why. In the end, we root for him to emerge from Miami's steamy streets and his biggest story with his soul and his hopes intact. With a strong story line and a cast of colorful characters, Miami among them, The Tinderbox is a fast-paced, exciting read.
(reviewed 12 days after purchase)
on Jan. 18, 2013 :
I just finished this book and had to make sure my house was not on fire. That's how taut and searing The Tinderbox makes you feel, and no wonder: the author, David Holmberg, is a career newspaper reporter who's always begged for and got the best frontline assignments, no matter how dangerous or explosive. His main character, no surprise, is a Miami reporter, Mike Baedeker, just as Holmberg's lead dog in a previous novel, The Hurricane Murders, was an ink-stained wretch of the old order, the kind of tough but sensitive operative I fear is vanishing from a newspaper business peopled mostly by upstanding men and women in business suits with Ivy degrees. In The Tinderbox, Baedeker (is the name of this savvy itinerant journalist a play on the classic travel guides?)finds himself witness to a shooting with racist implications that will threaten to tear apart the already teetering city of Miami, and at the same time we follow the fascinating thread of a deadly incident that happened years earlier, with his own father, also a newspaper reporter, at the heart of it. Read the book and get set to see the two worlds collide in a flaming denouement. Yes, you heard it here: the Tinderbox is hot stuff.
(reviewed 38 days after purchase)
Mary Jane Fine
on Dec. 13, 2012 :
The place is Miami. The time: New Year's Eve, on the brink of the 1990s, and chaos is close. A Cuban cop shoots an unarmed black teenager. The streets erupt in race riots. Reporter Mike Baedecker, recently returned to his hometown, is there to cover it -- but complications abound. His Cuban girlfriend and a black colleague view the events quite differently.
Ad there's another outside influence: an audiotape left to Baedecker by his late father, who preceded him at the Miami Times and recalls, for his son, the arson fire in downtown Miami a dozen years earlier -- the story that compelled and haunted him as the shooting-and-riot story does the younger Baedecker.
In "The Tinderbox," author David Holmberg, a veteran newspaperman who knows Miami well, paints a picture of a city in turmoil, a cauldron in which race relations and courtroom drama simmer. Central to the action is the newsroom at a time before blogging and Tweeting began to masquerade as journalism. In the Miami of the late 1970s and '80s, the side-by-side stories of father and son recall the passion of newspapering, of finding and telling as true a story as can be told.
Holmberg's writing is crisp, clear and evocative, his story compelling.
(reviewed 23 days after purchase)