In the Heat of the Night by John Ball | Book Review

I had picked this book up from my local second-hand bookstore after reading the synopsis at the back of the book. Being the crime fiction fanatic that I am, I was intrigued by the book’s synopsis and was craving some kind of classic crime to get me through the long hours of the day. So I picked the book up and headed straight to the counter.

In the Heat of the Night (Virgil Tibbs, #1)

Edition: Paperback, 185 pages

Publication Date: May 16th 2001 by Carroll & Graf (first published 1965)

Original Title: In the Heat of the Night

ISBN: 0786708832 (ISBN13: 9780786708833)

Series: Virgil Tibbs #1

Genres: Fiction, Classic, Crime, Mystery

Goodreads Blurb:

It’s the 1960s. A hot August night lies heavy over the Carolinas. The corpse — legs sprawled, stomach down on the concrete pavement, arms above the head — brings the patrol car to a halt. The local police pick up a black stranger named Virgil Tibbs, only to discover that their most likely suspect is a homicide detective from California — and the racially tense community’s single hope in solving a brutal murder that turns up no witnesses, no motives, no clues. 

John Bell’s ‘In the Heat of the Night’ is the fifth instalment of his Virgil Tibbs series. This book is set in 1960’s South Carolina, where a man has just been found dead in their small town. It seems like Virgil Tibbs was visiting the wrong place at the wrong time as he was immediately deemed as the first suspect. That is until Chief of Police Gillespie is informed that their person of interest is actually a well-renounced homicide detective from Philadelphia. Virgil Tibbs takes it upon himself to not only solve the murder, but to also prove his capabilities as a homicide detective for those who doubt him the most.

I love a good, classic crime mystery. Based on the synopsis alone, this book seems to tick all the boxes. However, I definitely wasn’t prepared for the sheer amount of blatant racism that was displaced in this book. That being said, it is important to note the context of this piece of text— it was set in the 60’s, in America, where there was still segregation based on the colour of your skin. White people had dedicated sections, like restrooms and seating areas, around town that black people were not permitted to enter or even use. Racism and discriminatory remarks were spoken out loud in the open, and black people were always deemed as inferior to white people. I think a quote that best sums up the entire novel and it’s historical context is:

“Smartest black I ever saw. He ought been a white man”

Pg 70

This was said by a white person about Virgil Tibbs, a black man. The derogatory comparison makes it seem like they (the white people) could not even bare the thought of a black man being as smart as Tibbs was. It In some ways, this is true. Not everyone is given the same opportunity, and others were just born with privilege from the very start. Historically, it is evident that those with money for education were white people and they upheld this stereotypical discriminatory thinking that all black people are uneducated. That is why it was hard for them to fathom that Virgil Tibbs is a smart and well-educated man. Too them, it’s almost as if the only way a person can be well-educated is based on the colour of their skin.

The murder mystery case was straightforward— a man is murdered and now we have to figure out who did it. However, I will say that the murder mystery is almost a subplot to the overarching theme of racism and what it means to be a black man in America at the time. Keeping in mind that Virgil Tibbs is a high-ranking officer (he’s a homicide detective) yet people ranked below him still don’t treat him with respect. Virgil Tibbs isn’t just solving the murder because his boss told him too, he’s also doing it to prove a point. He is trying to get rid of the stereotypical assumptions that come with his skin colour.

Incredibly well-written and blatantly straight-forwards, this book captures an important era of America’s history that should be read about and learned from.

Have you read ‘In the Heat of the Night’ by John Ball or any of his other books? Let me know what you thought of them in the comments down below!

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