Barr Breed

Created by Bill S. Ballinger
Pseudonyms include B.S. Sanborn and Frederic Fryer

Bill Ballinger wrote a pair of novels about Chicago P.I. BARR BREED who ran the Breed Detective Agency in downtown Chicago. No lone wolf, he, Barr has a staff of three operatives and a secretary, Evelyn Jones, who he considers so homely she’ll be honest. That’s balanced, I guess, by the other woman in the office, Sylvia, who’s considerably more attractive, although Barr thinks “looks like she hasn’t got a brain in her head.”

Okay, so Barr’s a bit of an oinker.

The first book, The Body in the Bed (1948), has Breed and his crew tracking down Caroline MacKormick’s killer in a plot clearly “borrowed,” according to some critics, from Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

The second novel, The Body Beautiful, followed the next year and has Breed hot on the trail of those responsible for the knifing of his showgirl girlfriend, Coffee Stearns, during one of her performances.

There’s nothing spectacular about these books–they’re pretty much standard post-war P.I. fare, comfort reads maybe–but Breed is a likable enough shamus, a regular joe who’s certainly tough enough but no superman. He knows his way around a wisecrack or two and enjoys the company of a surprising number of attractive ladies in the course of his investigations (but discreetly so). Still, Ballinger is pretty deft with the characterization, and he keeps the dialogue flowing easily. Most interesting of all, though, is the impossible crime aspect of the two books, something relatively rare for the era.


Born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Bill Ballinger was educated at the University of Wisconsin, and received his B.A. in 1934. and worked in advertising and broadcasting in Chicago and New York. His first novel was The Body in the Bed in 1948, and he went on to write thirty books, the most famous probably being Portrait in Smoke (1950), which was the first of his crime novels with which he experimented with alternating between first and third person viewpoints. The novel received a Les Grands Maîtres du Roman Policier Award and was eventually filmed in 1956 as Wicked as They Come. Besides Barr Breed, he wrote about a NY P.I. named Bryce Patch, and a series about Joaquin Hawks, an American Indian CIA agent operating in Southeast Asia. In the fifties, he moved to California to try his hand at screenwriting. He was eventually credited with scripts for eight feature films and over 150 teleplays, from Mike Hammer in the ’50s to Cannon and Kolchak: The Nightstalker in the ’70s. In 1960, he won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for his adaptation of the Stanley Ellin short story “The Day of the Bullet,” which was shown on Alfred Hitcock Presents, and was an associate professor of writing at the California State University, Northridge for a few years in the late seventies. He passed away on March 23, 1980.


  • “A shabby museum of every cliché of plot, style and action.”
    Anthony Boucher, on The Body Beautiful
  • “If you enjoy these mid 20th century detective novels, then you will love The Body Beautiful. It’s clever, suspenseful, funny, and hard-hitting.”
    — Paperback Warrior


Report respectfully submitted by Dale Stoyer, with some editorial canoodling by Kevin Burton Smith.

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