Tied for Murder finds psychologist and suspect Percy Peacock investigating the rather gruesome death of a heartless lothario named Christopher Smaed in a school building where a first-aid class practices how to care for air raid victims. Christopher is chosen as a test subject, and he is placed onto a stretcher by, ironically, his estranged wife Gloria and a frustrated ex-girlfriend, Ruth Teale.
Fitzsimmons does an admirable job building a list of suspects, each with a recognizable motive for revenge, ranging from jealousy to humiliation to blackmail to financial ruin. Added to the cast of characters are a flighty co-ed named Fanny, whom Percy nicknames Gracie, after comic radio personality Allen; Claude and Nancy Stevens, a rather unlikeable husband and wife with obviously something to hide and argue about; and Fred Hewing, whose fall at the top of a staircase during the blackout (was he tripped to create a distraction?) led to a cut on his hand. A police detective named Trenton clearly has Gloria Smaed in his sights as the murderer, so it is up to Percy and an affable deputy named Bill Dunning to prove her innocence and find the real culprit.
For me, the book (and my reaction) was a curious affair of the selected and the neglected regarding details and tonal choices. It starts with the intriguing murder-during-a-blackout premise, but after the stage is darkened for murder there is apparently no more need for references, so the author never alludes to life during wartime after Chapter Three. I had expected at least passing references to gas rationing or rubber shortages or further air raid concerns in the coastal California town, but the blackout and the first-aid training are the only details specific to the time.
Next, there was an intriguing but odd fusion of English cosy and American hard-boiled that did not quite succeed. Part of this is due to the reaction of everyone involved, who seem to take events following the initial murder – like two sprays of bullets into two different houses, the explosion of a runaway laundry truck, more fire in a backyard, and the discovery of another body – with a surprisingly calm resignation. For a tale whose amateur detective is a psychologist, I would expect the hapless citizens to show at least a few signs of inner stress and tension.