Showing posts with label Bill Ballinger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bill Ballinger. Show all posts

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Barr Breed #02 - The Body Beautiful

While writing over 150 teleplays, Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980) still had the opportunity to author nearly 30 novels. His crime-noir and detective fiction is still held in high regard, including two novels he wrote about a Chicago private-detective named Barr Breed. I read the first of these novels, The Body in the Bed (1948), and really enjoyed it. It was only a matter of time until I tracked down the sequel, The Body Beautiful. It was originally published by Signet in 1949 and was reprinted several times through the mid-1960s. 

As described in the first novel, Breed is a private-investigator that runs a staffing agency featuring detectives. His agency is employed by stores, banks, railroads, and any business or individual attempting to retrieve or prevent an economic loss. Often, these investigations eventually lead to murder. In The Body Beautiful, trouble lays its bothersome load right on Breed's front steps.

Breed and his friend Benny stop by the Marlowe Theater to view a traveling performance called The Golden Girls. Mostly, it's scantily clad beauties dancing while suspended in bird cages. After the titillating performance, Benny introduces Breed to one of the show's star performers, a knock-out named Coffee Stearns. During the awkward date, and subsequent awkward dates, Breed can't penetrate Coffee's social walls. But, once she realizes he's a detective, she lowers her guard and bra straps. The two kindle a relationship, but it's short-lived. During a performance, Coffee falls from one of the cages and plunges into the crowd. The cause of death? A knife in the back. 

Breed is torn up over the murder and wants to investigate free of charge. Like most of these crime-noir detective novels, Breed's police ally is Sergeant Cheenan with the Homicide Division. The two have a bitter relationship due to Breed's reckless abandonment outside of the law. But, Cheenan knows Breed is a relentless gumshoe, so he allows him a long leash. Before Breed starts the investigation, he receives a phone call from a man wanting to hire Breed. The job is worth $1,000 if Breed can confirm that Coffee Stearns was really a woman named Betty Anne Beals. Intrigued by the offer, Breed takes the case.

Ballinger was a tremendous talent and The Body Beautiful is another fine testament to his storytelling skills. I love this Breed character and the two-sided personality he possesses. Sometimes he's Mike Hammer screaming at everyone in the room and at other times he's just a wisecracking predecessor to 1950's Shell Scott. Like the first novel, Breed displays a ferocious fighting spirit, but prefers to rely on others to make mistakes or provide tiny clues that eventually lead to the mystery's resolution. 

While mostly saddled in Chicago, the book takes a jaunt to New York briefly. Through a cross-section of suspicious performers, Breed must interview everyone involved in the production and its past performances. I found the characters intriguing and the plot's twist and turns fascinating. The book's grand finale is a suspenseful chase scene through the empty theater as Breed is forced to match wits with the mysterious killer. 

If you enjoy these mid 20th century detective novels, then you will love The Body Beautiful. It's clever, suspenseful, funny, and hard-hitting. Unfortunately, this was the second and last appearance of this dynamic detective and that's a real shame. I wish Ballinger could have found a steady and consistent paycheck writing a series of Barr Breed novels. But, we only have these two works as a small glimpse of what might have been.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Barr Breed #01 - The Body in the Bed

Born William Sanborn Ballinger, Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980) wrote over 150 teleplays including episodes of The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Ironside. With most of his career spent in radio and television, Ballinger still found the opportunity to author nearly 30 novels. His first, The Body in the Bed, was published in 1948 and is the first of two books starring a Chicago detective named Barr Breed. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I couldn't resist the idea of a crime novel in Chi-Town.

Although the sign on his door reads Breed Detective Agency, Barr Breed isn't your typical private-eye. Instead, he runs a detective staffing agency that furnishes guards for warehouses and banks, detectives for railroads, secret shoppers for stores and payroll protection for long routes. So the last thing Breed wants is a murder case. But, when a guy named Gibbs knocks on his door, Breed becomes enthralled with his story.

Gibbs explains that he's been cheating on his wife for a number of years. As a commercial account executive, Gibbs is in and out of hotels all over the country. In Chicago, Gibbs has a main squeeze named MacCormick. Unfortunately, while Gibbs was in the shower, someone walked in, strangled her to death and then tucked her into bed. Gibbs discovers the dead broad and makes a beeline for a detective agency to figure this out. Breed doesn't buy in right away, but when Gibbs produces a wad of bills, Breed makes him this deal: The money will buy Gibbs seven days. During that seven day stretch, Gibbs needs to lie low and allow Breed to find someone else to be a suspect for the cops. Gibbs accepts the deal and takes a point-blank shotgun blast to the chest later that night. Later, Gibbs' own wife is found murdered as well. Who knocked-off this love triangle and what's Breed's commitment to the case? That's the main premise behind The Body in the Bed.

Honestly, I didn't particularly like Breed during the novel's first half. But as the story-line began to tighten, I changed my tune - he's a real badass. He fights hard, escapes from killers, endures some torture, is an excellent shooter and a real cool cat with the ladies. He's not a dimwit, but he does allow the problems to solve themselves. He does some sarcastic wisecracking and always seems to describe in great detail what he's eating and drinking. As a crime-fiction mystery, the novel works really well with a payoff finally coming at the very end. I was glued to the characters just trying to figure it all out.

Ballinger writes this in the first-person as Breed relays his experiences to readers. After the book's sequel, The Body Beautiful, the author changed his writing style to incorporate shifting first-person narrators from the various characters' perspectives. This sort of bobbling could make readers seasick, but I'm willing to test the waters. I haven't seen the last of Bill S. Ballinger.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 1, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 80

On Episode 80 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we review the new Stephen King book LATER from Hard Case Crime. Also: Two series titles called Decoy? Plus: Bill S. Ballinger, Paul Whelton, Gary Dean, John Sanford and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app or or download directly HERE

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 80: Stephen King's Later" on Spreaker.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 78

Episode 78 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast explores the life and work of Norman Daniels. Also covered: Tokey Wedge, Jack Lynn, Bradford Scott, Walt Slade, Jim Hatfield, Bill S. Ballinger and more! Listen on any podcast app or or download directly HERE.   

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 78: Norman Daniels" on Spreaker.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Longest Second

Former radio script-writer Bill Ballinger wrote around 30 novels in his career in the crime and espionage genres. His 1957 release, “The Longest Second,” was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel and has found new life as a re-release from Stark House Books, packaged as a double along with Ballinger’s “Portrait in Stone” from 1950.

“The Longest Second” relies on a literary trope - an amnesia victim tries to learn his own mysterious history - that may have been fresh back in the day. In this case, our hero is Vic Pacific (awesome hero name, by the way) who awakens in a hospital bed recovering from a slit throat rendering him mute combined with significant memory loss. Bad guys are evidently trying to finish the job, and Vic isn’t ready to roll over for their cause.

Ballinger does a nice job of conveying the terror and frustration Vic feels upon waking up in a hospital bed with all memories just beyond his grasp. The narration toggles between Vic’s first-person storytelling and short chapters told from the perspective of the police detectives trying to solve the slit throat mystery. POV changes in short novels can be irritating if not handled well, but by 1957 Ballinger was a a solid writer who pulls off the toggling of perspectives quite adeptly.

After Vic is discharged from the hospital with no voice or memory, he is befriended by an attractive woman with an even sexier roommate who gives Vic a place to stay with meager employment while he works on the mystery of his own identity. As Vic heals, clues present themselves from the recesses of his mind with the most perplexing being: Why does Vic have a basic working knowledge of the Arabic language?

The success or failure of a book like this rests almost entirely on how satisfying the Big Reveal is regarding the main character’s identity. The reveal comes at the end of the novel, and I found the punch-line pretty underwhelming. Many chapters of plodding, by-the-numbers investigative work lead the reader to an improbable, ho-hum solution presented as a shocking final sentence twist ending.

There’s nothing wrong with Ballinger’s writing style, but this one was all set-up with a lackluster payoff. Your time is better spent elsewhere. Get a copy of the book at