A new Stephen King release is always an event. Not just because of his past success, but because the man is an American icon who can flat out write. It used to be that his fans were looking for another scare, like they remember when they first picked up THE SHINING, ’SALEM’S LOT or PET SEMATARY. But King has proven that he is so much more than just a horror writer.
While there are some thriller aspects in his latest novel, it is essentially a character study. Billy Summers is a hit man with a heart who is seeking one last job before doing something else with his life. That he has a moral compass somewhere in the area of, say, Dexter Morgan — he only kills bad people who deserve to die — makes him an instantly compelling individual, and you will want to learn more about him.
“BILLY SUMMERS is a complex read, but the beauty of the book is in the retelling of Billy’s final job and his burgeoning relationship with Alice.”
Nick Majarian, a mob boss, needs a sniper of Billy’s “caliber” to take out a human target. Billy, of course, asks if the intended victim is a bad person. Nick answers affirmatively but finds the question to be humorous, as the job promises to pay him enough to retire permanently on a private island of his choice. Billy gets his tools, creates a false identity for credit card payments — in this case, Thomas Hardy, after one of his favorite authors — and rents a room in the hotel where the hit will take place. Nick reminds Billy that one of the main reasons he uses him for these kinds of jobs is his ability to disappear like Houdini after the deed has been done.
Billy is now starring in his own last job story. This causes him to reflect on his time as a sniper in the Iraq war, and he decides to write about it. Throughout the book, we read passages recounting his war experiences, which could warrant a novel of its own. He changes some of the names of those involved, but the story is otherwise authentic and completely his. However, starting is a bit of a struggle. He remembers William Wordsworth saying that the best writing is about strong emotion recalled in tranquility. Unfortunately, Billy has lost his tranquility.
The plot takes a sharp turn when Billy meets with a young woman who he saves from a bad incident. Alice is quite needy but just the person he needs as he is trying to change his life for the better. Perhaps if he can save her and finish this last job, he can finally accept that he is ready for a new chapter. The story takes place a little over a year before COVID-19 had its grip on the world, which seems like a far more innocent time than we all know now.
Roger Klerke, Billy’s target, is indeed a very bad man. I won’t spoil for you why the hit has been put out on him and what impact his death will have. All I will say is that Billy must follow Klerke to Montauk Point at the tip of Long Island, NY, to the haven he owns there. With Alice in tow, Billy is prepared to finish the job for which he was hired.
BILLY SUMMERS is a complex read, but the beauty of the book is in the retelling of Billy’s final job and his burgeoning relationship with Alice. King always throws in references for his loyal readers, and there is a nice one here about the Overlook, the hotel where THE SHINING was set. Will Billy be able to wrap up his “career” on his terms and ride off into the sunset with Alice by his side? That is for you to read and find out!