Even if Stephen King writes a bad book, it will be better than the work of many other authors, but when he writes a good one, he can knock the reader’s socks off.
After an indifferently written Later, King comes up with Billy Summers, a warm, humorous, suspenseful story of a hired assassin, whose last job for a temptingly fat fee, has unexpected consequences.
Billy is an ex-army sniper, the best there is– a man who never misses. Back home from the horrors of Iraq, he ends up as a gun-for-hire, but only takes on assignments to kill “bad men.”
He is offered two million dollars to shoot a small-time hood, who needs to be silenced because he has some damning information about a powerful man. Billy is expected to shift months in advance to the town where the hit is to be set up, and assimilate into the community, so nobody will notice a killer in their midst.
He is provided with a new identity, settled into a modest cottage and parked in an office from where the target is to be shot. To justify his presence in a commercial complex full of lawyers and accountants, he is given the cover of a writer. To show that he is actually at work, Billy starts writing an autobiographical novel, and realizes he enjoys the process, even though he has no illusions about being published. What he writes is a book within the book, and his words take on a life of their own.
The problem turns out to be that he mingles rather too well with the affable neighbours, becoming popular with them and their kids. At his fake workplace he befriends others from the building, who gather every afternoon by the lunch trucks. A hitman is not supposed to socialize so much, but it is probably his troubled past and his loneliness that makes him relish this temporary normalcy. After every successful hit— he is known to never fail—Billy vanishes without leaving a trace. This time, his instincts warn him of a possible betrayal by the gangster who hired him, because there is a bigger game afoot.
Another obstacle in his meticulous shoot-and-scoot plan is a young woman, Alice, raped and left for dead outside his hideout. She becomes his travelling companion and a platonic soulmate, as Billy tries to find out just what he got himself into, who was responsible, and how to make them pay.
King fills the pages with interesting and colourful characters, from the baddies to his lone wolf ally, Bucky. He never lets the darkness surrounding Billy swamp the bursts of happiness he experiences, and takes the reader along on his marvellous journey to redemption. The novel is languidly paced, but filled with enough action and unpredictable turns to make it unputdownable. King fans will also pick the reference to his horror classic, The Shining (1977), when the burned down, haunted hotel The Overlook makes an eerie hallucinatory appearance.
Billy Summers is a novel by a master storyteller at his best– with complex plotting, vivid jump-out-of-the-page sequences, an endearing protagonist (despite his profession), a wonderfully brave and adventurous female character. Alice aspires to be a writer too, and this story ends at a point where it seems like she will get a book of her own in the future. King fans will wait for it.
By Stephen King