Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A little-recognized fact about most of Stuart M. Kaminsky’s mystery novels is that they are also historical fiction. “The Buck Stops Here” is deliberately set in the past. Also, it must be recognized that the story is primarily escape literature. Although some crime fiction deals with larger issues of morality and character, Kaminsky has not done this in depth here.

Although Pevsner is the narrator of this story and its ostensible protagonist, it is Truman who is the hero. The contrast between the two is made clear, even though Kaminsky leaves readers to draw the proper conclusions. Pevsner is the intellectual and the observer of life. Indeed, the only talent that he possesses, so far as we are informed, is his unusual ability to retain what he has seen. Although a young man, he is so fatigued by his travel that he literally sleeps on the job, a situation that confines him to a relatively passive role until the conclusion.

On the other hand, this story can be read as Kaminsky’s paean to Truman, as it emphasizes the former president’s considerable strengths, including his intelligence and belief in the dignity of his former office. It is Truman who emerges as the decisive man of action and resolves the stalemate. As Pevsner and Koster, an armed Secret Service man, are immobilized by the gun trained on them, Truman risks his own life and disarms a dangerous professional killer.