An American mystery writer, he is best known for his series of novels about African-American police detective, Virgil Tibbs. He published the first novel in the series, In the Heat of the Night, in 1965.
He studied at Wisconsin's Carroll College. He later wrote for several magazines and newspapers, including the Brooklyn Eagle.
In 1971, he published a bestselling thriller entitled The First Team.
He was born in New York, and he grew up in Wisconsin. He married Patricia Ball.
His works have been compared to those of Tom Clancy.