John Ball's 1965 mystery In the Heat of the Night tells the story of a black police officer named Virgil Tibbs who happens to be passing through a southern town at a particularly inauspicious moment. An orchestra conductor has been brutally murdered and the local police, without much in the way of real evidence, arrest Tibbs. On discovering that Tibbs is not the real killer but rather a highly-skilled homicide detective, the local police enlist Tibbs to help solve the case.
Several factors made (and make) this novel so very relevant and timely. For one, the hero is a black police officer, which at the time the book was written was not a very common figure in popular culture. Tibbs's investigation leads him through the backwater town and exposes him to different forms of prejudice harbored by the townspeople. His urban sophistication and his California background also rankle the townspeople. A major accomplishment with this novel is that author John Ball refuses to discredit one stereotype by merely adopting another. He deftly manages to write a novel about prejudice and stereotype set in a region of the country where ignorance and racism cause terrible suffering, but avoids making the mistake of depicting every Southerner as ignorant or racist. Just as the portrait here of Virgil Tibb's topples some peoples' notions, portraits of some Southerners in this novel do the same.
In the Heat of the Night stands as a classic pop culture document. It is also winner of the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America as well as the Crimewriters' Association's Golden Dagger Award, and it was named one of the hundred greatest detective novels of the century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. The book's main character, Virgil Tibbs, also appears in The Cool Cottontail and Johnny Get Your Gun as part of the Virgil Tibbs mystery series.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Ball wrote over thirty novels during his career including mysteries, war novels, adventure stories, but his reputation as a novelist is based on his first work—the 1965, In the Heat of the Night. While under considerable pressure from his publisher to make a change, Ball insisted on keeping the leading character in his novel a black man. Ball made the right decision and the book garnered him much praise for progressive thinking and a keen understanding of racial prejudice. Ball wrote other books that featured the hero of In the Heat of the Night, detective Virgil Tibbs, including The Cool Cottontail(1966), and Johnny Get Your Gun(1969). Later in life, Ball worked as a part-time police offer in Los Angeles and also trained in the martial arts. He died in 1988.
ABOUT THE SERIES
John Ball broke new ground with his book In The Heat of the Night, his 1965 novel that introduced the determined detective Virgil Tibbs. Ball's novel was controversial for it established a black man as a protagonist and Ball refused to change it, despite pressure from the publishing community. Ball would succeed and his book went on to become a film and television series, winning five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for actor Sidney Poitier. Virgil Tibbs features in other books in the series, using his wits and physical martial arts skills as he successfully fights against crime, racism, and more.