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Rosenberg, Philip 1942-

ROSENBERG, Philip 1942-

PERSONAL: Born March 30, 1942, in Worcester, MA; son of Oscar (a manufacturer) and Eva (Weiner) Rosenberg; married Charlotte Schmidt, December 27, 1979; children: Mark Elijah, Matthew Isaiah. Education: Boston University, B.A., 1963; Columbia University, M.A., 1965, Ph.D., 1972.

ADDRESSES: Home—685 West End Ave., New York, NY 10025. Agent—Robert Datilla, 150 East 74th St., New York, NY 10017.

CAREER: Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, editor, 1965; freelance editor, 1965-74; writer, 1974—.

WRITINGS:

The Seventh Hero: Thomas Carlyle and the Theory of Radical Activism, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1974.

Contract on Cherry Street (novel; also see below), Crowell (New York, NY), 1975.

(With Sonny Grosso) Point Blank, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1978.

(With Robert Tanenbaum) Badge of the Assassin (nonfiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.

The Spivey Assignment: A Double Agent's Infiltration of the Drug Smuggling Conspiracy (nonfiction), Holt (New York, NY), 1979.

Tygers of Wrath (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.

House of Lords (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of television screenplays, including Contract on Cherry Street, (adapted from his novel), first broadcast in 1977, and To Sir with Love II. Contributor of articles to magazines, including Esquire.

SIDELIGHTS: In his first book, The Seventh Hero, Philip Rosenberg argues that the Victorian social critic Thomas Carlyle was a major precursor of modern activism. It might have marked the beginning of Rosenberg's academic career but for the serious reservations he had about working as both scholar and teacher. After leaving Columbia University with his Ph.D., Rosenberg hoped to make his living as a full-time writer. He has since written both novels and nonfiction books, all joined to the theme of crime and punishment.

Contract on Cherry Street was Rosenberg's first attempt at fiction. The main character of the story, Frank Hovannes, is a detective in the New York City Police Department. When his partner is gunned down by the mob, to the apparent unconcern of the department, Hovannes sets out to avenge the killing. He forms his own undercover unit and launches a private "war against crime," carrying out a series of executions that spreads panic throughout the underworld. Unable to identify its real enemies, the mob strikes out at false targets and turns violently against itself. Hovannes's strike force, however, in its effort to remain undiscovered, must commit another round of murders. Internal dissent and violence eventually overtake Hovannes's men as well.

Critics were impressed by this debut. Gene Lyons of the New York Times Book Review commented: "[Rosenberg] has written an admirably crafted entertainment that engages one's attention from beginning to end and gives one something to think about in between. To have done all that without violating one's sense of probability and proportion, while dealing with a subject and theme which do, is no small thing." Another reviewer, Michael Irwin of the Times Literary Supplement, observed that the author "has done plenty of homework and written a good, jolting, professional thriller. His narrative is a little over-populated for anything much in the way of character definition, especially as cops and crooks alike converse in gangland Esperanto; but the action is fast and clever."

Rosenberg followed up Contract on Cherry Street with another look at crime and police work. Although presented in the form of a novel, Point Blank is a work of nonfiction based on the story of police detective Joe Nunziata, named Joe Longo in the book. The source for the story is one that other authors, notably Peter Maas (Serpico) and William Phillips (Rogue Cop), have found especially rich for books, articles, and films: the revelation of widespread police corruption in New York City during the late sixties and early seventies. In collaboration with Sonny Grosso, the detective who broke the "French Connection" case, Rosenberg dramatizes the events that ended with Nunziata's suicide.

The authors portray Joe Longo as "a devoted father and dedicated cop who was driven to his death by callous manipulators." In the course of a drug investigation, Longo accepts a bribe from a drug dealer and informant working as a double agent of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (B.N.D.D.). "When Joe is finally trapped," explained New York Times BookReview writer Evan Hunter, "we are asked to believe he accepted a bribe from the bad guy only to tighten his grip on the man. Why he really took the money remains one of the book's mysteries." Officials of the B.N.D.D. confront Longo with three choices: "You can work with us, you can go to jail, or you can blow your brains out." Longo's suicide note makes it clear that he blamed agents of the B.N.D.D. for his death.

Point Blank "reads more like a complicated spy story than a straightforward police narrative, with more double agents and double-crosses than can be found this side of le Carre country," Hunter said. "Joe's eventual death is predicted throughout in flash-forwards … creating a foregone-conclusion suspense that does not detract from the cat-and-mouse gam Joe and the drug dealer-informant-double agent are playing….[Itis]a story told with insight, indignation and—yes—at times inspiration."

In Badge of the Assassin, Rosenberg teamed with prosecuting attorney Robert Tanenbaum for a detailed examination of the criminal justice system, starting with the murder of two New York City policemen in 1971. Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones were among the first policemen killed by members of the self-proclaimed Black Liberation Army, which construed the slayings as political acts in the cause of racial war. Badge of the Assassin is about the difficult and often frustrating manhunt that went on for four years, the eventual capture of the murderers, and the two courtroom trials needed for a successful prosecution.

According to some reviewers, Badge of the Assassin is a suspenseful, well-written book that provides some insight into the fragile traditions of American justice. New York Times Book Review contributor Dan Greenberg remarked: "The accounts of the two murder trials in New York, at which coauthor Robert Tanenbaum served as prosecutor, and an intervening chase down to a remote farm in Mississippi where one of the murder weapons (the 'badge of the assassin') is believed to be buried, are almost as suspenseful as the stalking and capture of the killers….The book is nicely researched and documented. The story is complex but easy to follow. The characterizations are brief but ring true, and the scenes build well. The writing is generally as spare and clean as a news story."

New York Times reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wondered at first if the story reflected the "true legacy of black militancy" in the early seventies: "Does it all come down to this—a story of shots in the back in the dark of night, by vicious punks mouthing incoherent revolutionary slogans?" But the authors make a distinction between being militant and being evil, and "in the long run," Lehmann-Haupt wrote, "Mr. Tanenbaum and Mr. Rosenberg win you over….I was fully caught up in the building drama of the book and turning pages without any awareness of time at all. And if you had interrupted me here and asked me then about its larger meaning, I guess I would have snapped that it signified nothing but right and wrong and justice. And hurriedly gone back to finish an exciting story."

In The Spivey Assignment, another nonfiction thriller, Rosenberg delivers a portrait of "the narc as hero." The book purports to be a tribute to narcotics agents who, the author attests, "are roundly damned on the one hand for interfering with the rights of citizens to smoke, snort or ingest the chemicals of their choice, while on the other hand, they are mocked for their failure to win the war against drugs." The hero of The Spivey Assignment is Larry Spivey himself, a Georgian who had made and lost a small fortune in the construction business and, finding himself at loose ends, joins the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. During his six months as an undercover agent, Spivey infiltrates a number of drug-smuggling operations, travels to Mexico, Guatemala, and Jamaica, kills two men, and encounters eighteen other homicides.

New York Times Book Review writer Donald Goddard called The Spivey Assignment, "a Central American macho trip, full of gun law and gun lore, high-speed chases by land, sea and air, virile adventurers, dashing entrepreneurs, treacherous Latins, [and] beautiful women….The action is fast and frantic; the expertise crisp and convincing, the characters stock, but sufficient for an exercise in the New Romanticism, which sets as much store on jungle country and automatic weapons as it does on psychological insight." In the end, Goddard observed, "Spivey had to be as ruthless, as unprincipled and … as brutal as the dopers he tried to catch."

Publishers Weekly contributor Sybil Steinberg compared Rosenberg's 1991 novel, Tygers of Wrath, to the school-noir classic Blackboard Jungle, with Rosenberg's writing being "denser and the canvas larger." When Timothy Warren, a Bronx junior-high-school student, takes as hostage thirteen-year-old Ophelia James, it is up to teacher Steven Hillyer to try to talk the boy out of violence. When the negotiations break down, both students die—Ophelia by asphyxiation, Timothy by a police bullet. The resulting clamor over the deaths brings inner-city racial politics into the fray as the Board of Education clashes with the police department while a local black leader "uses the incident to his own advantage," as Steinberg related. Steinberg found this novel a worthy entry overall.

In Rosenberg's next novel, House of Lords, Wall Street financier Jeffrey Blaine is the host of a party where an underage girl is intoxicated and raped. The scandal could wreck Blaine's life except for a mysterious stranger, Chet Fiore, who steps in and handles the crisis. In short order, Fiore informs Blaine that a gossip columnist who had threatened to break the story "has been taken care of." It becomes apparent that Fiore is involved in organized crime, and now wishes to extract a price from Blaine in return for his protection. Now drawn into the shadowy world of the Mafia, Blaine finds himself becoming an increasingly willing participant in a money-laundering scheme. A Kirkus Reviews critic cited "overcooked prose" and "an unsettling denouement" in House of Lords. But to Michael Phillips of Book, Rosenberg exhibits "crisp style and irreverence" in this thriller.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

periodicals

Best Sellers, June, 1974; July, 1979.

Book, July-August, 2002, Michael Phillips, review of House of Lords, p. 81.

Booklist, December 15, 1990, review of Tygers of Wrath, p. 786.

Books, September, 1991, review of Tygers of Wrath, p. 22.

Choice, November, 1974.

Commentary, September, 1974.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1990, review of Tygers of Wrath, p. 1703; April 15, 2002, review of House of Lords, p. 521.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, November, 1992, review of Tygers of Wrath, p. 11.

Library Journal, January, 1991, review of Tygers of Wrath, p. 155; June 1, 2002, Craig L. Shufelt, review of House of Lords, p. 197.

Nation, December 21, 1974.

New York Review of Books, June 27, 1974.

New York Times, July 12, 1979, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Badge of the Assassin.

New York Times Book Review, July 21, 1974; May 11, 1975, Gene Lyons, review of Contract on Cherry Street; July 2, 1978, Evan Hunter, review of Point Blank; July 8, 1979, Dan Greenberg, review of Badge of the Assassin; December 2, 1979, Donald Goddard, review of The Spivey Assignment.

Publishers Weekly, January 4, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of Tygers of Wrath, p. 58; May 27, 2002, review of House of Lords, p. 39.

Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 1976.

Washington Post Book World, January 21, 1979; March 3, 1991, review of Tygers of Wrath, p. 8.*

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