Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Writers Born Today - John Ball

It's the birthday of mystery writer John Ball, born July 8, 1911 in Schenectady, New York. After graduating from Carroll College he began his career as a music critic and reviewer. During World War II he was a pilot and flew supplies over the treacherous Himalayas for troops fighting in Asia.

He wrote for magazines and newspapers and even worked as a sheriff's deputy before turning to fiction. Later in his career, he wrote book reviews in the 1970s and 80s for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

Some of his first novels featured pilots flying planes under difficult circumstances, such as Last Plane Out. But his most famous fictional character was Virgil Tibbs, a black man investigating crime in a white man's world. His first novel featuring the soft-spoken but competent detective was In The Heat of the Night

It won the Edgar Award in 1966 for Best First Novel, and was made into a movie starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. The movie version won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967. The novel also won the Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association.

In 2014, L.A. Theater Works made the novel into a play which received excellent reviews.

Ball wrote 6 more mysteries featuring Tibbs, including The Cool Cottontail, Five Pieces of JadeSingapore. Johnny Get Your Gun, The Eyes of Buddha, and Then Came Violence.

One of his last novels was published after his death, The Van: A Tale of Terror. Released by St. Martin's Press in 1989, and now available in a Kindle edition, was based on a true crime case in Los Angeles involving horrific killings of young women.

John Ball was President of the Los Angeles chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and served for a time as the Vice-President of the national organization. He died in 1988.

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