John Ball (author)

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John Dudley Ball (July 8, 1911 – October 15, 1988),[1] writing as John Ball, was an American writer best known for mystery novels involving the African-American police detective Virgil Tibbs. Tibbs was introduced in the 1965 novel In the Heat of the Night, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America and was made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name.

Ball was born in Schenectady, New York, grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers, including the Brooklyn Eagle. For a time he worked part-time as a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, was trained in martial arts, and was a nudist. In the mid-1980s, he was the book review columnist for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Ball lived in Encino, California, and died there in 1988. He was a member of the exclusive Baker Street Irregulars, a society of ardent Sherlock Holmes fans. He was invested in the BSI in 1960 as "The Oxford Flier."

Ball's Last Plane Out consists of two stories which share characters and then meld together. The first involves a group of travelers in a troubled Third World country, waiting for the last plane out, which they hope will carry them to safety. The second story is shared by an aviation buff who is given his chance to increase his flying skills by the airline that has been built by the pilot of the first story.

The First Team[edit]

Ball's departure from the mystery genre was a bestselling what-if political thriller The First Team, published in September 1971. In the 1960s and 1970s, the genre of political thrillers born of the Cold War included writers such as Allen Drury (Advise and Consent, Fletcher Knebel (Seven Days in May), and Edwin Corley (The Jesus Factor). They combined politics, paranoia, and traditional hero characterization to thrill mostly male readers.

The First Team starts after the USA has surrendered to the Soviet Union (never actually named within the novel) without firing a shot. The takeover is possible because of widespread cultural malaise. Undermined by hippies and anti-war protestors, corrupt military-industrial complex producers providing faulty fighter planes, weak-willed politicians, and the Communist propaganda machine (not to mention the Vietnam War's hangover), the USA was unable and unwilling to defend itself.

The leader of the occupation forces is an iron-willed bureaucrat, backed up by a vicious secret police Colonel. White House interpreter Raleigh Hewitt, kept at his post due to the invaders' laughably poor command of English, is recruited into an underground resistance organization called "The First Team." It turns out that the fall of the United States was foreseen, and this ultra-secret agency schemes to free the country again. Pre-dating Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October, The First Team contains details about the US nuclear submarines, abduction of one of which saves the day.

The First Team appeared more or less simultaneously with Vandenberg by Oliver Lange, dealing with the same theme of a Soviet-occupied United States, but far more pessimistically - with resistance restricted to a small group of oddballs in a corner of New Mexico. Both are part of the genre of Invasion literature, like The Battle of Dorking in 19th Century Britain.


While in college he performed as a semi-professional magician under the name "Jacques Morintell" and "Howduzi".[2][3] He was listed in the "Who's Who in Magic" in the May 1933 issue of The Sphinx (An Independent Magazine for Magicians published from March 1902 through March 1953) [4] and contributed an article called "Further Ideas" to The Sphinx in 1937.[5]


Virgil Tibbs series[edit]



  1. ^ McDowell, Edwin (October 18, 1988). "John Ball Dies at 77; A Critic and Novelist Know for Mysteries". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  2. ^ Billboard March 8, 1930
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sphinx, May , 1933
  5. ^ Sphinx, March 1937