THE EYES OF BUDDHA, published in 1976, was John Ball’s fifth novel featuring his Pasadena Homicide detective Virgil Tibbs. In his mid-thirties, he’s the best homicide investigator on the force and not at all like the version portrayed by Sidney Poitier in the three films, only one, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, based on the novels.
Ball does give a nod to the movies when Tibbs is in a club and buys a drink for the singer and she gets a distant look when he identifies himself. “You don’t look like Sidney Poitier.” She says, finally apologizing when he shows his badge and license. The movie IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is even mentioned a time or two.
When a scout troop on a hike in a state park stumbles across the badly decomposed body of a young woman, a cold case is reopened. Doris Friedkin, heir to a fortune, had gone missing under mysterious circumstances one year before. At a luncheon for the participants of the Rose Princess contest, she gets up to go to the restroom and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
Because of her parents wealth and influence, homicide investigator Virgil Tibbs is called in to investigate. He’s the best on the Pasadena police force. The parents fund the investigation, no limits, to insure Virgil stays on it.
It doesn’t take long to determine that the victim isn’t Doris, though she fits a superficial description of the missing woman. Strangled, but not sexually molested, she’s only been dead about ten days. There are no missing girls that fit her description in the state for six months.
Using the razor sharp mind he’s known for, Virgil begins to reshape the facts other investigators had turned up the year before, actually digging up a few new questions of his own, and begins to unravel two mysteries at once. His investigation ends up taking him to the far East: China, Katmandu, and finally Nepal on one case.
And he learns of a connection between the two cases, the woman missing a year and the woman dead only ten days. What he learns in Nepal sends him in the right direction for the second killer.
A fine mystery. Ball drops a few things in to give us insight into the type of man Virgil Tibbs is, mentioning classical music when relaxing at home, reading THE VALLEY OF FEAR, that sort of thing.