Monday, July 23, 2007

"The Feel of the Trigger", by Donald Westlake

From: Games Killers Play, ed. "Alfred Hitchcock", Dell Books, 1967.

It was after midnight on the graveyard shift and Brooklyn detective Abe Levine was at the precinct house, listening to his heart skip every tenth beat or so, when a call came in. A stickup in a small convenience store, the elderly proprietor shot four times. The man's wife had witnessed the attack and was able to identify the attacker, a local teenager.

So Levine and his partner Crawley head over to the teen's home, where his parents swear he was there all night. With his bad heart, Levine spends all his time staring into the void, the empty pit of death. How can he make these people understand what their son has done, what he's taken away from another human being?

"The Feel of the Trigger" dates from 1961, making it one of Westlake's earliest stories. It's a police procedural in tone and detail, but at its heart this and the other Levine stories are meditations about life and death, what it means to take a life, and what it means to give one up.

By sheer luck, when I was barely in high school I read "After I'm Gone", the last story in the Levine cycle. My parents had been on a trip, and my mother brought home a copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which she'd either read on the way or picked up as a "What'd ya bring me?" gift. In that story, Levine faces his fear of death, accepts his own mortality, and does what he has to do - a fitting end to the series. All of the Levine stories are available in a single volume, called simply Levine.

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