Now here’s an arcane point: Authors of crime stories seem sometimes to assume that law enforcement in towns too small for a police force is the responsibility of the local sheriff. The sheriff part is right, but in California (and I’ll bet throughout the West) the local part usually is not. The person who is sheriff has his office in the county seat. So Simon Lash, for example, might have found a deputy living in Mojave, but the sheriff himself would have resided in Bakersfield. I'm pleased to report that Owen Cameron, author of Catch a Tiger, understands where sheriffs operate.
Catch a Tiger by Owen Cameron. Simon and Schuster (1952), 213 pp.
Deputy sheriff Jake Brown is investigating the disappearance of an elderly man, Bert Haskell, from his home on the outskirts of a small Northern California town. Johnny Meath, who lately has been living with Haskell, says the man has gone to Denver. Johnny, in his early twenties with a pleasant demeanor and ready smile, appears completely trustworthy. Chief among his supporters is Dorothy Arnson, a beautiful young neighbor. Another neighbor, however, Clarence Dow, is convinced that Johnny has murdered Haskell. Although there is no evidence of foul play, Jake continues the investigation.
This book deserves credit more for effort than execution. Jake's motives, for example, are appealingly complicated. He pursues his inquiry not so much because he believes the accusation against Johnny. It's more that he wants the young man to be guilty so he won't wind up with Dorothy, whose breathtaking good looks have gotten Jake longing for the days when his own marriage was truly passionate. Jake soon begins thinking of Johnny as a fearful animal who will strike if threatened. All of this is interesting but not quite convincing. The story would have been more compelling if it had always used Jake's point of view and taken longer to establish Johnny's guilt or innocence. Even so, it's a good read, and fans of police procedurals may well appreciate its unusual approach.