Four businessmen are playing their weekly early-morning round of golf when one of them hits his ball into a sand-filled bunker. Taking his next shot from down in the bunker, out of sight of everyone else, not only does he hit the ball straight out of the sand and into the hole (which he cannot see), but when the others approach the bunker to congratulate him they find it empty except for a blood-stained golf club, with no way for their colleague to have vanished without either being seen or leaving obvious traces. Intrigued? You should be…
Yup, two golf mysteries in a fortnight. I must be nearing retirement or something (ha, I wish…).
I can’t quite remember how this came to my attention, but as it’s published by editorial and publicity service iUniverse Star it qualifies for my long-neglected Adventures in Self-Publishing where I search for impossible crime novels unrecognised by trad publishing houses that nevertheless might be worthy of your attention. And, y’know what? This is actually pretty damn good. It has its problems (we’ll get to those) but on the whole it’s of a quality that more self-published novels — hell, more novels full stop — should aspire to, enriched by some very good writing and a nice streak of inventiveness that fills out this wealthy SoCal milieu.
You can see Sheldon selling it on the odd-couple pairing of straight-laced Chief of Police Dan Shepard and terrible artist and general nuisance to society Herman de Portola Bliss as they lock horns, argue, team up, and eventually solve the mystery. It’s not without its cosy aspects in this regard, but Shepard is a slightly more put upon presence than we might anticipate — recently brought in from ‘outside’ to the consternation of a few colleagues, under pressure from the mayor who makes no secret of how much Shepard’s job depends on solving this case — and Bliss is captured beautifully in descriptions like
The furrows that fifty-six years had carved into his face added to the image, but Bliss no longer minded. If he needed to nurture his love of beauty, he looked at his art, not in the mirror.
Or exchanges such as:
“He exposed himself to a group of congressmen!”
Bliss shrugged, “They were Republicans.”
Around Bliss’ neck, then, hangs the sense of making this more of a caper — there will be impersonation of a police officer, breaking an entering, several arrests, a game of tennis, and more than a few obscure proclamations in the style of the Great Detective before we’re done — but it’s done with such a pure heart and a sense of enjoyment behind it all that you can’t really hold it against Sheldon for taking this approach. It’s fun, it moves at a good lick, and while I can’t comment in the originality of the disappearance (I can give at least two examples of the same sort of thing, but not with these precise…workings) you certainly don’t feel that Sheldon is lazily repeating something he read elsewhere: the golfing milieu is used very well, and while I’m not sure there are clues as such, you can certainly look back over things come the end and see how it was indicated in the text (yes, this sounds like clewing, but it’s not really…you’ll have to read it to see what I mean).
The impossible disintegration is well-worked and well-motivated, too, which is often something where more modern takes on the subgenre fall down. There’s a slew of last-minute information that makes the full motive of the guilty party all but impossible to fathom in advance, but at least S.S. van Dine would be happy to see a few of his rules observed to the letter. There’s also one element it shares in common with one of Carr’s less-heralded early titles that may not delight the purist, but I’m willing to give Sheldon a pass on this — seriously, he does a great job straddling the cozy mystery, impossible crime, eccentric sleuth, stern authority figure, and small town small-mindedness tropes that we might expect to drag the whole enterprise down (he even works in some clever threads about the wider community without stalling the enterprise even slightly), and what emerges is an inventive, richly-realised, and unusual detective story.
I especially like the added detail of the near-impossible golf shot that our vanishee makes before evaporating. In and of itself it isn’t impossible, but the fact that the shot had to be made in order to add to the overall effect of the vanishing give it at least a borderline impossible edge…and while others may consider the solution to this a little obvious, there’s again a nice form of foreshadowing that doesn’t quite fall into clewing but nevertheless made me very happy once it was spelled out. It works extremely well as a plot thread here, but would equally make a beautiful short story in its own right. In fact, I could believe Sheldon would make a very good short story writer if the itch ever got to him again (alas, this is his only fiction publication) and if he had another manuscript sitting on his computer I’d love to read more from him…provided he worked on the biggest flaw here: his characters.
Because the one problem a lot of people will have with this is that beyond Bliss no other character really emerges beyond Shepard playing music and the mayor being…a mayor. And it would actually be fine if there didn’t seem to be some late addition single-paragraph horrors of this ilk:
Amy smiled, obviously pleased. Most of the drudgework at the station fell to her. She put in long hours, despite being a single mom with a nine-year-old boy, and rarely got much recognition for her mostly menial efforts. Shepard knew she felt good playing a part in the investigation.
That, incidentally, being the only time we’re ever really told anything about Amy except that she’s in a room and/or sitting at a desk. But then Sheldon manages some quite wonderful turns of phrase, too, like…
Violence no longer respected such geographical niceties. These days the wolf howled at every door.
30 thoughts on “#271: Adventures in Self-Publishing – Impossible Bliss (2001) by Lee Sheldon”
Ah, iUniverse, you say, huh? I will never be able to disassociate that self-publishing outfit with David Marsh’s Dead Box, which is still one of the worst mystery novels I ever had the misfortune of stumbling across. You really should consider making it a part of your “Adventures in Self-Publishing,” because the sheer anger it might provoke in you would make for a fun blog-post.
But I’ll take your word for it that Sheldon Lee’s Impossible Bliss is worth a swing (see what I did there?) and it has been added to my wish list.
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Is Dead Box an impossible crime? If so, I’ll definitely consider it — always nice to discover unheralded gems such as these, but equally looking over something that you expect to.be terrible might, just might, throw out something worthy of comment…!
Officially, it’s an impossible crime story. Way back when, someone on the yahoo GAD list had recommended the book as a hardboiled locked room mystery in the style of Bill Pronzini. But, uh, it’s a clusterfuck you should experience for yourself. I would be very surprise if there’s even a single kind word in your commentary.
Well…okay, then, now I’m especially curious! If I can get it for no great outlay I’ll definitely check it out — watch this space, and…thanks?
You’ll probably order a hit on me, from the deep web, when you’re done with the book.
Nah, all the deep/dark websites I use have been shut down. Instead I’ll just recommend a series of increasingly poor locked room novels and pay others to also say they’re brilliant and so ruin your reputation…wait, what am I saying? That sounds expensive.
And Dead Box is currently £13 on Amazon and I’m not paying that much for a book that’s only brought to my attention because it’s shit. So our feud may have to wait…
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This sounds like an absolute beauty. What a great set up! That’s the kind of set up you tell your non GAD friends and they get excited about it. Really want to see how the hole in one relates to the solution.
It’s a lot of fun. The impossibility will, as is the way with these things, infuriate and delight at approximately a 50/50 split, but there are a couple of classics that do the essential same thing and are highly regarded…Sheldon has done very well to work in a new aspect, even if his clewing is suspect — genuinely not sure how the information could have been provided without being hideously obvious, so he gets a pass!
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Hmm, this is all very cryptic and exciting. So this guy is totally self published?
Lee Sheldon has published other books, but no other novels — this is his sole effort, and it’s self-published, so I guess that makes his fiction “totally” SP, yeah. iUniverse appear to offer editing and feedback services, but it doesn’t strike me as a trad publishing setup…fine, it might be borderline if one wished to split hairs, but anything not trad that reaches the market in this way is self-published as far as I’m concerned. I’m not doing a PhD thesis, so my definitions can be a little loose…
My name is Mike Grost. I am a non-commercial writer. I self-publish my impossible crime short stories, distributing them for free on my web site. They are available for free in ePub, Kindle and web page (HTML) formats at:
ePub is a format used by Android, iPad and Nook tablets and smart phones.
Welcome, Mike! I’m on your website about four or five times a month because of your excellent detail and analysis, so I’m delighted you’ve found me — I should totally check out some of your stuff for this, that’s a great idea. Any advice on where to start?
The first tale “A Detective Is Born” is an origin story for Jake and his friends. Jake is a pulp magazine writer in the 1920’s, who gets a job writing adventure movies in Silent Film Hollywood.
The stories are mystery comedies. They are light-hearted. No one would ever ever call them noir, dark, spooky or full of terror and suspense. They do have a lot of plot, and try to be fast paced.
Thanks, Mike; once I’m back from holiday I’ll get right on it!
This is a noble service you’re performing, JJ, in an era where the whole publishing world is transforming itself. I’ll let you know if I ever need your services! 🙂
The tempting thing is to dismiss it all as shite, I’m aware, but by that reasoning all trad published novels must be great and we know that ain’t true. I’m sure I’ll kiss a lot of frogs, but what I do in my own time is my own business…er, I mean, hopefully I’ll continue to find SP and POD books that I can recommend. Certainly this has given me a fair chunk of hope.
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Glad to hear that there are self-published mystery novels worth reading. Happily, my local Kindle store stocks this title; I managed to snatch up a second-hand paperback copy of ‘Stableford at Golf’ too. Thanks for the reviews… 😀
Niiiiiice, I look forward to hearing what you make of the Reef — given the rise in interest in that style of book, I’m hoping for the others to secure some sort of translation deal…I mean, it might happen…!
Well, first of all thank you very much for the kind review which I stumbled over entirely by accident today! For the record I’ve written quite a few impossible crimes, all on TV, and one was nominated for an Edgar. In my only other Edgar-nominated show I cheekily had one character exclaim that a murder was a locked room mystery only to have the hero debunk that in the very next line of dialogue. About the publication of Impossible Bliss: I actually did not need to pay for it. The MWA had an arrangement with iUniverse for them to republish some out-of-print books and some new stuff like Bliss by MWA members. I’d had an editor at St. Martins interested earlier who asked me to cut the length, which I did, then she vanished. I had little time to pursue publication since I was writing and producing TV, so when the opportunity arose, I took advantage of the MWA arrangement. The book did surprisingly well, earning a reprint under the iUniverse Star label. After a couple of decades in video games, including adapting three Agatha Christie novels, I wrote my second mystery novel this summer. It’s currently on an agent’s slush pile in New York. I have my fingers crossed. Again, thanks for the review. It was a pleasant surprise!
Delighted you’ve found us, and especially excited to hear there may be more on the horizon — please do keep us updated on any developments!
And of course I must ask: what impossible crime stuff have you written for TV? The Other Impossible Crimes of Lee Sheldon is something I’d be very interested in investigating…
Well JJ, since you asked, you’re in luck. A few months ago I made up a list of impossible crimes for John Pugmire that I’ve written for TV and elsewhere. I used to collect Impossible Crime first editions, including a complete run of Carr (with the Roger Fairbairn book), and am a credited contributor in the second edition of Robert Adey’s book. The following has a bit more detail than the earlier list.
My Impossible Crimes in Chronological Order (I think!)
Murder by stabbing in a glass revolving door with only the victim inside and police both inside and outside the building in plain view of the door. (an early unpublished short story with a nod to John Dickson Carr)
Wheelchair bound woman who is alone vanishes from a ski lift gondola under observation as it rises up a mountain. From Clue Club. (I’m pretty certain the solution to this one has never been used before.)
Impregnable safe built in a room vanishes even though it is too large to pass through any doors or windows. From Clue Club (Inspired by an Ellery Queen story.)
Murder by strangulation in a locked room under observation by a live video camera. From Charlie’s Angels. (Pretty easy to figure out.)
Victim is shot to death when only one possible suspect is nearby, but she is innocent. From The Eddie Capra Mysteries (Nominated for Edgar Award, one ingredient inspired by The Hollow Man.)
Murder by strangling with a chain in a gazebo surrounded by snow with only the victim’s footprints leading to the gazebo. From Edge of Night. (Half of the solution is old, half is I believe unique. Not sure though.)
A city block disappears. From Edge of Night AND THEN Blacke’s Magic (Same solution. I wrote it for the last episode of Edge of Night—I was head writer—but it was a cliffhanger that I didn’t explain, and some doubted I could pull it off. So, I revived the puzzle for an episode of Blacke’s Magic the following year, and fully explained it. Different solution than a couple you may be familiar with…)
A plane that lands with no one on board. From Blacke’s Magic. (I did not write the script for this one, but I produced it and suggested the simple solution to the writer who was hung up on radio-controlled flight.)
Murder in the locked room of a tower. From Blacke’s Magic. (Same as situation directly above. I haven’t seen it since it aired, but I don’t recall the solution being anything special.)
All of the inhabitants of a town vanish overnight. From Blacke’s Magic (Inspired by an episode of the 50’s TV series of The Thin Man with Peter Lawford that obviously warped me as a child when I saw it on a rerun.)
Both the killer and the victim (Vincent Price) somehow entered a locked room. The main suspect was a wax figure of Edgar Allen Poe. From Blacke’s Magic. (Nominated for an Edgar Award. Already mentioned: for my amusement I had the locked room part of the puzzle debunked a few seconds after being stated. Price was the only member of a great cast who caught most of the Poe references scattered throughout the episode.)
A child becomes invisible after stepping off a train in a small town. From Father Murphy. (Inspired by a G.K. Chesterton story.)
A corpse vanishes from a sand trap on a golf course. From Impossible Bliss. (With which you are surprisingly familiar. My only published mystery novel to date.)
Over a short period of time everyone disappears from The U.S.S. Enterprise, and only Beverly Crusher remembers they ever existed. From Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Okay, kind of a cheat because a Sci-Fi explanation is involved, but the solution is fair given that proviso. An earlier solution I pitched would have worked without sci-fi.)
Occupant of a hot tub, accessible only by a guarded gate, is apparently clawed to death. From The Beast of Big Sur. (Planned sequel to Impossible Bliss, TBD!)
This is an astoundingly tempting list of impossibilities — thank-you so much for sharing them. Now all I need to do is track them down…! Good to know you’re in Adey, too — I’ll be sure to avoid the solutions in the newly published edition.
Really pleased to hear that the new novel is a sequel to Imposible Bliss, too — you’ve created a great character there, and have a very strong setting in which to set this kind of mystery. Here’s hoping we see it before too long.
Apologies for the delay in replying, I’m currently on holiday in Boston, and so am a bit behind on my blogging. I’m very excited to learn there’s so much more of your stuff out there, and I’ll do my damndest to track it down in the months ahead.
I’ll probably be in touch…! 🙂
My contributions to Adey’s book are unfortunately from reading, not writing. I knew of a few he had not yet come across. He didn’t include TV shows. And the Bliss sequel has two books in front of it, the one at the agents now and another (hopefully my last) non-fiction book. Thanks very much for your interest!
Just wanted to let you know Lee Sheldon’s comments inspired me to finally pick up Impossible Bliss and watched The Real Gone Gondola episode of Clue Club. My reviews won’t be up until the first week of October (still ahead of schedule), but Sheldon’s list of his impossible crimes was very helpful in feeding my impossible crime addiction. I’ll be looking for the Edge of Midnight episodes next!
In case you’re reading this, Sheldon. You should contact John Pugmire of Locked Room International to ask him if he’s interested in publishing The Beast of Big Sur and your unpublished short story. Perhaps it could even be published as an omnibus edition together with Impossible Bliss.
Ha! I’ll be curious what you think of Clue Club. It was my first attempt (and my last) at an animated TV series. But I doubt you’ll find many other cartoons with impossible crimes in them. I had thought to contact John Pugmire. He tells me he only publishes French, Japanese and some rare English books. He does not publish contemporary books. But thanks for the thought!
I hope you’ll be reading this, Sheldon. My review of Impossible Bliss was just posted over on my blog and the review of Clue Club is going up on Sunday. Let us know when you find a publisher for The Beast of Big Sur. I can never have enough impossible crime fiction on the big pile.
Thanks for the reviews, TC! I especially applaud your stamina for watching the Clue Club episode. The two stories I wrote for Clue Club were the first TV writing I did. The impossible crime and some of my dialogue remain, but I was rewritten by the story editor who added the Abominable Snowman. That story editor was fired and my second story (the vanishing safe) arrived on the desk of a new story editor who, when I came to meet him, shook his head at me and said he didn’t have time to teach me how to write TV, so he would just rewrite it. This also allowed him to pocket the money that would have been coming my way. Ah well!
I first saw your byline on The Edge Of NIGHT, when you took over as headwriter in 1983 for the great Henry Slesar.
As a long-term fan of EON, I was perhaps a shade dubious, but it seemed to me that you got into the swing of things in Monticello in very short order.
Actually, you had me with the introduction of Detective Chris Egan, on whom I developed an instantaneous crush (I often wonder why Jennifer Taylor, who played the part, gave up acting altogether not long after EON folded – but that’s another story …).
As to your listing of your “impossibles”, I was a bit surprised that you didn’t include the Logan Swift murder, which took up most of 1984 on EON.
That story had so many subplots and red herrings that plotting it out, to play over a five half-hour -a-week schedule for at least six months, must have been something of a strain (even with several subwriters to assist), but speaking as a viewer, I assure you that it was well worth all the waiting.
It was your ill luck to join EON at the point when the ABC network had all but given up on it.
That you gave it your all speaks well for your tenacity as a writer.
… and selling the vanishing street to Blacke’s Magic afterwards was the ultimate mot juste.
The whole of your Edge Of Night run can be found on YouTube (most of it, anyway – some episodes are missing).
Lately, I’ve been looking at the ISIS Building storyline, which wasn’t really an “impossible”, but still resonates in light of current US politics (particularly “The Day Before The Election” – which lasted two weeks).
In any event, I now am seeking out your name when I go looking for new or nearly-so stuff to read (or watch, as the case may be); here’s hoping for the new novel!
Hi Mike, thanks for your comments. It’s funny, I never thought of the Logan Swift story as an impossible crime. I’m showing my wife the shows from my time on EON (we weren’t together back then), and we’re building up to the Logan Swift storyline. He’s on the scene, but still standing. I did plot the killing on my own. My writing team wrote some scripts each week, but as head writer it was my job to plot. I gave myself the challenge of writing a story where just about every single character (20 or so?) could have done it. That explains all the red herrings! I remember my executive producer, Nick Nicholson, taking me aside at one point and asking me anxiously if I was sure I COULD provide a reasonable solution. I reassured him, but to be honest, there were several plot threads I hadn’t quite worked out, even though I did know the ultimate solution from the start.
Lee (if I may be so familiar):
Thanks for your thanks.
Someone once wrote that a classic mystery was really two stories:
(1) What Seems To Have Happened.
(2) What Really Happened.
The Logan Swift story exemplifies this aspect.
Beyond that, I wouldn’t wish to wreck it for your wife, so I’ll let that part go.
But the whole elaborate set-up was indeed classic.
Constructing those stories and sub-stories, with their multiple intersections (and ABC didn’t help matters any with that Olympic hiatus) – really, can any word describe it but impossible?
Lately, I’ve been revisiting the ISIS Building story – particularly “The Day Before The Election”.
Not an “impossible” either, technically, but watching it in 2018 it almost seems prophetic.
And Jerry Zaks as Louis Van Dine was the greatest Villain ever, in any medium.
(Of course, it can be a bringdown to realize how many of the other cast members have passed on in the intervening 35 years …)
Back to waiting for that next novel!