From Publishers Weekly
The turbulent politics of the 1960s hasten the demise of an old-fashioned San Francisco newspaper in this entertaining but hollow fiction debut from Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez (Dancing Under the Moon; City of Angles). Twenty-four-year-old Vietnam veteran William Colfax leaves a smalltown paper to join the staff of the San Francisco Herald just as the Herald begins its precipitous decline, ravaged by the clash between radical community leaders and the paper's reactionary publisher, Jeremy Lincoln Stafford III. His first night on the job, Colfax covers a bombing at the Federal Building. He goes on to make his reputation by following the career of Vito Minelli, a charismatic campus radical who masterminded the crime, finally winning a Pulitzer for his coverage of Berkeley activism. While Stafford attempts to recruit Colfax as a lieutenant in his personal crusade against moral decay, Minelli casts the stodgy Herald as a fascistic foil to aggrandize his own revolutionary rantings. Stafford only fuels the fire with the bombastic editorials he runs on the front page. Soon Colfax's colleagues begin to fall victim to the paper's dwindling circulation, as Colfax finds himself caught in the middle, groping for some balance of personal loyalty, integrity and professionalism. Martinez paints all of this with a broad brush, fashioning a lively melodrama. But the novel is peopled more with types than characters. If Colfax fails to take on much depth, despite rote recollections of a failed romance and his dysfunctional relationship with his father, the others remain mere cartoons. Nor is the well-worn '60s milieu seen from a fresh perspective in this largely forgettable drama of remembrance, likely to be of most interest to West Coast readers and journalism junkies. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
As The Last City Room opens, in 1965, the once-great San Francisco Herald is a newspaper in serious decline. Aspiring reporter William Colfax joins the paper after a tour in Vietnam. He lands an "above the fold" byline on his first day covering the bombing of an FBI office by antiwar radicals. The ensuing public outrage dovetails with the extremely conservative beliefs of the newspaper's slightly unhinged publisher, Jeremy Stafford. As Stafford veers farther to the racist and anti-Semitic right, he loses both readers and advertisers, leading to budget cuts, layoffs, and labor unrest and sealing the newspaper's fate. Martinez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, has an excellent ear for dialogue and an insider's knowledge of the workings of a major metropolitan newspaper. In true journalistic fashion, neither the right- nor the left-wingers come off particularly well. His characters, though, are too familiar, some of them seemingly transported directly from The Front Page and Lou Grant. Even so, there is much to enjoy in this novel, which will have its strongest appeal among journalism junkies and students of the 1960s. George Needham
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