Shaft Has a Ball

© 1973 Ernest Tidyman
US: Bantam edition published 2nd April 1973. 150pp.
UK: Corgi edition published 20th July 1973 (0-552-09273-8); 150pp.

Story: Ernest Tidyman
Manuscript: Robert Turner
Final Edited Manuscript: Ernest Tidyman

Dedication: None.

Bantam US paperback cover
Bantam US paperback cover

Do Unto Others … Fast! That’s John Shaft’s golden rule — and the way he takes care of biz. This time it’s at the centre of a Mafia heist plan to cop a million from the Hotel Armand during a fag convention and put all the heat on a revolutionary brother. But things are not as Black as they seem until Shaft jumps in, fists first and gun burning holes in whatever moves. When the smoke clears and the bodies are all counted, it’s no news that SHAFT HAS A BALL.

JOHN SHAFT, Private Investigator
BEN BUFORD, political activist
WINIFRED GUITERREZ, magazine journalist
ANDY LE DUC, heist gunman
DONALD GRAYCOFF, heist actor
NEAL WICKMAN, heist organiser
SAUL YANCEY, heist co-organiser
JEFF BIGGER, heist lockman
ROLLIE NICKERSON, part-time actor/barman
BEBE JENNINGS, LeDuc’s girlfriend
PETE DRAKE, Head of Security at Hotel Armand
CYRUS CREIGHTON, executive manager of Hotel Armand
DIRK “COWBOY” DOHENY, rough-trade thug
BILLIE YEATS, bellhop at Hotel Armand
HELEN GREEN, wife of Shaft’s accountant
MRS. HUEY BUFORD, Ben Buford’s mother
MR. JULIANSON, Graycoff’s uncle
DOMINIC, Mafia man
UN-NAMED, Second mafia man
MARILYN CRISPIN, friend of Winnie Guiterrez
BREAM, one of Buford’s men
THE BOOK, numbers man
HOWARD MARCY, Georgie’s minder
RUBE POSEY, pool hall owner
ANDREA, junkie prostitute
CLAUDE PHILLIPS, Client of Shaft’s

Original German paperback published by Ullstein.


  • The first of four books Tidyman planned as a follow-up to the initial three he had written. He reasoned a production of books within the term of his 5-year contract with MGM for adaptations would maximise potential earnings. He sketched out plots for four more stories and looked for help in writing the books (Robert Turner and Phillip Rock).
  • Robert Turner’s first manuscript was developed from an initial outline by Tidyman titled The Gang’s All Here, Shaft.
  • Turner’s final manuscript was submitted on 20 August 1972
  • The novel is set between Wednesday 16 August and Saturday 19 August 1972.
  • As Turner was completing SHAFT HAS A BALL, Phillip Rock was commencing work on GOODBYE, MR. SHAFT, which also used the character of Senator Stovall. The lack of collaboration between Turner and Rock and some poor editorial work by Tidyman resulted in errors in continuity between the two.

Shaft felt like a paper bag full of bruised peaches, soft and squishy, ready to spoil.

Shaft was sure the ‘please’ tasted like hummingbird shit on Drake’s tongue – he got it off so quickly. (Chapter 3)

(Shaft tracks down a gay bellhop who has given a rough-trade thug access to the Seanator who he has beaten, robbed and sexually assaulted) “You scream or holler,” Shaft said. “And the only thing you get to suck for six months is a hospital thermometer. Cowboy. I want to find Cowboy.” (Chapter 4)

Corgi UK paperback cover

SHAFT HAS A BALL is a quick and entertaining read, but shows signs of its hurried route to publication. There are a number of unsatisfying elements to the story and a rushed wrap-up after the closing shootout in Yonkers. Additionally the violence has become more casual and the killings more frequent, relegating the book to the level of much of the men’s pulp adventure fiction of the time.

“If you can get past the cringe-inducing blurb on the back advertising Shaft going undercover at a “fag convention,” you’ll get a pretty good misanthropic detective story. Not the best of the series and it seems as if Tidyman was getting a little tired of churning out the series at this point, but it does have its moments.” – Scott Adams, Teleport City, 7 June 2005

“Literary Shaft drips disdain for gays, and it’s an ugly attitude that recurs with irksome regularity throughout the series, particularly in SHAFT HAS A BALL, in which Shaft investigates a scheme to pull off a heist during a drag queen ball.” – Jay Potts, World of Hurt website, 6 November 2009

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