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Interview: Charles Rosenberg, Author of Death on a High Floor: A Legal Thriller

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Not a stranger to drama and crime, Charles Rosenberg was one of two on-air legal analysts for E! Entertainment Television’s live coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial and also provided commentary for E!’s coverage of the Simpson civil trial.  In addition, Mr. Rosenberg has been the credited legal script consultant to the popular prime time television shows Boston LegalL.A. LawThe Practice and Showtime Channel’s The Paper Chase.

On the writing front, Charles Rosenberg penned the book The Trial of O.J. Simpson: How to Watch the Trial and Understand What’s Really Going On (Publishing Partners 1994) and is also a contributing author to the book Lawyers in Your Living Room! Law on Television (ABA Publishing 2009).

Mr. Rosenberg is a graduate of Harvard Law School where he also spent time as an editor of the Harvard Law Review.  Charles Rosenberg has been a partner in numerous law firms and is currently a partner in a three-lawyer firm in the Los Angeles area where he and his wife reside.

In addition to writing, Mr. Rosenberg has taught extensively as an adjunct law professor at respected establishments that include Loyola Law School in Los Angeles; the Loyola Law School International LLM Program in Bologna, Italy; Pepperdine School of Law; UCLA School of Law; and the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA.

Readers can learn more about Charles Rosenberg and his works by visiting his blog and connecting with him on Facebook.

Please tell us a bit about your book, Death on a High Floor, and what you hope readers take away from reading it.

On the surface, Death on a High Floor is a classic legal thriller, complete with tense courtroom scenes. As the novel opens, Simon Rafer, the managing partner of Marbury Marfan, a glitzy, L.A.-based international law firm of more than a thousand lawyers, lies dead in the firm’s swank 85th floor reception area. An ornate Swiss dagger protrudes from his back.

Simon, it turns out, had recently paid $500,000 for the ancient world’s most infamous coin, the EID MAR denarius, minted by Brutus to commemorate his assassination of Julius Caesar. On the back of the coin appear double daggers, the helmet of liberty and the Latin words EID MAR (Ides of March). The police quickly conclude that Simon was killed in a dispute with the seller over the authenticity of the coin. The question, “Real or fake?” echoes through the novel.

Robert Tarza is a sixty-something senior partner at Marbury Marfan. He had recently sold the coin to Simon and is instantly suspected of being the killer. Robert is proper, self-contained and sardonic but has lived his entire professional life, literally and metaphorically, on the “high floors.” He is utterly unprepared to deal with being accused of murder, let alone prepared to deal with the police, the ravenous media, and the generally unsupportive reactions of those he had thought of as his close friends. The title of the book, Death on a High Floor, is thus simultaneously a description of both the physical place where Simon Rafer was murdered and the metaphorical place where Robert’s psychological death spiral begins, as he falls from highly respected attorney to common criminal. On a deeper level, Robert’s fall from grace is what the novel is really about, and I hope reader’s will take from it not only a better understanding of how criminal procedure really works, but an appreciation for what it is like, emotionally, to be falsely accused.

Who are your favorite characters in the story?  

Jenna James (the young, kick-ass female associate who wants to defend Robert Tarza on the murder charge, but is herself a suspect) and Serappo Prodiglia (the quirky dealer in ancient coins who lives above a restaurant in Hyde Park, in south Chicago.)

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?

“Romantic stories cling to objects like gum to shoes.”

If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

Tom Hanks could play the protagonist, Robert Tarza. He’s about the right age and could pull off Tarza’s wry sense of humor. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) could play Jenna James because she displayed in her performance in Winter’s Bone the same sense of relentless determination that Jenna displays throughout Death on a High Floor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t look like Serappo Prodiglia as he is described in the novel, but he could easily portray Serappo’s quirky European snottiness.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

Creating interesting characters and seeing what happens when they meet.

Your least favorite aspects of writing?

Responding to copy edits.

Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

The Leather Stocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese; Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

If you could have a dinner party and invite five authors – dead or alive – who would they be and what would you serve them?

James Fenimore Cooper, Hilary Mantel, John D. McDonald, Jane Smiley and Herman Melville. I would serve them sushi (being sure to include at least some pieces that did not contain raw fish). It would probably be a new cuisine for several of them, so it should be a good ice breaker. Melville should be particularly taken with the food.

What is a book that you wish you could say that you had written and why?

Day of the Jackal, because it manages to maintain its suspense throughout even though you know the outcome (Charles de Gaulle is not assassinated) from the very first page.

What is the greatest piece of advice (for writing and/or just living) that you have heard?

Just finish it!

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