The son of a scientist, John Ball was born in Schenectady, New York, and grew up in Milwaukee. He attended Carroll College in Wisconsin. He subsequently worked as a science staff writer on Fortune, a music critic and feature writer for the Brooklyn Eagle, a daily columnist on the New York World-Telegram & Sun, a broadcaster for a Washington radio station, and a Director of Public Relations for the Institute of Aerospace Sciences. His In the Heat of the Night was awarded a Mystery Writers of America "Edgar" for the Best First Mystery Novel of the Year, and since had been followed by The Cool Cottontail, also featuring his African-American detective, Virgil Tibbs. Mr. Ball has also authored a number of notable young adult books.
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