BILL S. BALLINGER – Not I, Said the Vixen

Gold Medal k1529; paperback original, 1965.

   Ballinger had a long career as a mystery writer as well as working for television and the movies, but for some strange reason, this is the first book of his I’ve read. So, whether this one is any way typical or non-typical of his fiction, I couldn’t tell you.

BILL S. BALLINGER Not I Said the Vixen

   His one-time protagonist in this largely courtroom affair is Cyrus March, perhaps the best defense attorney in the country. But unlike Perry Mason, say, March also has a drinking problem. And somewhat unlike Perry Mason, his client admits to pulling the trigger in the fatal shooting of a wealthy female socialite.

   Like so many of Perry Mason’s clients, Cyrus March’s is a beautiful woman, perhaps even narcissistic, and her story is that the victim was an unknown intruder in her apartment. March’s problems with the bottle began with the death of his wife, and unlike Perry Mason, he soon declares his love for person he’s defending.

   The dialogue is sometimes stilted, and the action often stagy, but every once in a while Ballinger mixes in a brilliant turn of phrase that makes you remember why you’d rather be reading instead of watching the tube. He also alternates chapters between first and third person, an unusual format that doesn’t quite click, even though you know why he’s using it.

   Lesbianism is a key ingredient of what makes the courtroom drama go — it’s seemingly kept at arm’s length at first, but the nuances become less and less subtle as the story works its way out.

   Rather a minor effort overall, but if you ever find a copy to read, I think it’ll keep you interested all the way through. It did me, and sometimes that’s all you need.

— December 2002

[UPDATE] 12-05-08.   Out of curiosity, I checked again to see if Cyrus March showed up in any of Ballinger’s other mystery fiction, but I’ve found nothing to suggest that he did. Ballinger did have a series character named Joaquin Hawks, who was in five paperback originals put out by Signet in the two year period 1965-66.

   As a Native American detective, tribal affiliation unknown, Hawks is mentioned in my list of N.A. sleuths on the primary M*F website, but I’ve not read any of his adventures. Another website says that he “is a case officer in the Central Intelligence Agency. His normal beat is Southeast Asia.”

   If you follow that last link, you’ll find a lot more information about him. For the record, here’s a list of all five of the Joaquin Hawks books, expanded from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

             HAWKS, JOAQUIN:
      The Spy in the Jungle (n.) Signet D2674, pbo, May 1965 [Viet Nam]
      The Chinese Mask (n.) Signet D2715, pbo, June 1965 [China]
      The Spy in Bangkok (n.) Signet D2820, pbo, Dec 1965 [Thailand]

BALLINGER Spy in Java Sea

      The Spy at Angkor Wat (n.) Signet D2899, pbo, May 1966 [Cambodia]
      The Spy in the Java Sea (n.) Signet D2981, pbo, Sept 1966 [Far East]

BALLINGER Spy in Java Sea