Billheimer, John (W.)

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Born in WV; married; two children. Education: University of Detroit, B.S., 1961; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.S. (electrical engineering), 1962; Stanford University, Ph.D. (industrial engineering, operations research), 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, cinema.


Office—Systan, Inc., 343 Second St., P.O. Box U, Los Altos, CA 94022. E-mail—[email protected].


Engineer and novelist. Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, CA, senior operations analyst for management systems division, 1963-72; Systan, Inc., Los Altos, CA, vice president, 1972—. California Motorcycle Safety Program, cofounder; member of California Transportation Research Board committee on traffic law enforcement, 1984—, committee on HOV lanes, 1993—, and chairman of committee on motorcycles and mopeds, 1994—.


Pyke Johnson Award, Transportation Research Board, 1978, for outstanding paper published in the field of transportation systems planning and administration; The Contrary Blues named among ten best mysteries of 1998, Drood Review.



The Contrary Blues, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Highway Robbery, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2000.

Dismal Mountain, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2001.

Drybone Hollow, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.


John Billheimer is the author of a series of mystery novels featuring fictional amateur sleuth Owen Allison. The "Allison" novels are set in West Virginia, where Billheimer was born and raised; the first, The Contrary Blues, takes place in the fictional town of Contrary. The action begins when the town is granted federal money for its bus system and mistakenly receives enough to maintain twenty buses rather than the two it owns. Instead of correcting the error, the townspeople decide to distribute the extra money around town. When a Department of Transportation auditor sent to check on the money winds up dead, a second federal auditor, Allison, is sent from Washington, D.C. to find out where the money has gone and how the first auditor died. "The plot is not the driving force behind the story, yet there is no shortage of action," noted observed Andy Plonka in The Mystery Reader. "…What compels the reader to pay attention is the description of the town itself and its inhabitants."

Allison returns to West Virginia in Highway Robbery, Billheimer's second novel, when a construction crew finds a skeleton Allison's mother believes may belong to her late husband. While investigating this mystery, Allison uncovers many issues from his own past. Drood Review writer Craig Beresford described the book as "hugely successful, both as a mystery story and a novel." Reviewer Harriet Klausner also praised Highway Robbery in an online review for Under the Covers, calling the book "a delight due to the plausibility of the present and past killings, which allow the reader to further focus on Owen, who deserves future appearances."

In, Klausner described Dismal Mountain as "exciting" and noted that it "highlights the environmental vs. economy issue." In this book, Allison returns to West Virginia to defend his Aunt Lizzie against murder charges of which he knows she is innocent, despite her confession. The plot thickens with the addition of a corrupt hospital and disreputable construction company. Booklist contributor David Pitt observed that "Billheimer's characters are so vividly drawn they threaten to wander off the page and into the real world" and described the book as "a first-rate crime novel."

In Drybone Hollow, the fourth book to feature Allison, a dam breaks, filling the town of Contrary with coal sludge and killing four residents. When a mine owner asks Allison to investigate, he uncovers a story of corruption and greed. Booklist's David Pitt, again praised the author's work, writing: "In a genre laden with too many amateur sleuths, Allison is a fresh protagonist with an unusual pedigree." Remarked a Kirkus reviewer: "Soap opera aside, Billheimer constructs a puzzle so ingenious that …readers should a seen it coming—but they won't."



Booklist, May 15, 2001, David Pitt, review of Dismal Mountain, p. 1735; February 15, 2003, David Pitt, review of Drybone Hollow, pp. 1052-1053.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, Ruth Cohen, review of Drybone Hollow, p. 185.

Palo Alto Weekly, October 7, 1998, Don Kazak, "A Swindle Unravels."

Publishers Weekly, April 6, 1998, review of The Contrary Blues, p. 62; January 31, 2000, review of Highway Robbery, p. 85; June 18, 2001, review of Dismal Mountain, p. 62; March 3, 2003, review of Drybone Hollow, p. 57.

ONLINE, (June 3, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of Dismal Mountain.

Drood Review, (June 4, 2003), Craig Beresford, review of Highway Robbery.

John Billheimer Home Page, (June 4, 2003).

Mystery Reader, (June 4, 2003), Andy Plonka, review of The Contrary Blues.

Under the Covers, (November 28, 1999), Harriet Klausner, review of Highway Robbery. *

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Billheimer, John (W.)

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