Billy Summers by Stephen King: A review

 

Billy Summers is a killer for hire. But he has his standards. He only kills bad men. Some of the men he has killed have been very bad indeed.

Billy was trained as a sniper in the military. When he got out, with no real prospects in view, he decided to use the killing skills he had learned. This is the "profession" that has sustained him in the years since. When we meet him though, he's decided he's had enough. He's ready to retire. But first, he's persuaded to take one last job. It is a job that will set him up for life. He gets a half a million dollars payment up front and will get one-and-a-half million when the job is completed. It's an offer he can't refuse.

In this final job, Billy will get to use his skills as a sniper. The man he's been hired (by a mob boss) to kill is being extradited from another state to face murder charges. His potential victim will be delivered to the steps of the courthouse near a rented office where Billy is pursuing his cover story of being a writer. And that's where Billy will take his shot.

Billy spends weeks in the town before the wheels of justice finally deliver the man to him. During that time, he adheres to the cover story by actually trying his hand at writing. He decides to write his life story, but in order to remain true to the dumb self persona he has perfected over the years, he assumes the voice of Benjy Compson, Faulkner's "idiot" child from The Sound and the Fury. This is only one of several literary references King makes in this book. He also mentions Dickens, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, and Cormac McCarthy, to name but a few. Billy is actually quite well-read and throughout the book, he is engrossed in reading Emile Zola's Therese Raquin.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, he finds that he enjoys writing and that he has a knack for it. So in a reversal of The Shining where a writer became a killer, here the killer becomes a writer. Yes, King's literary references include himself!

Leading up to completing his job, Billy becomes concerned that there is a plan to get rid of him after he does the deed, and he makes alternative getaway plans. He holes up in a basement apartment in town instead of getting out of town as the mob boss had made arrangements for. While in his apartment one night, he sees three men in a van dump a girl's body on the street by where he lives. He goes out to check on her, finds her alive, and brings her inside. She had been drugged and gang-raped by the three men. I had been enjoying the book quite a lot up to this point, but this addition to the plot just seemed awkward and unnecessary to me. But there it is.
The woman is 21-year-old Alice and she and Billy develop quite a close but platonic relationship over the next several weeks.

All of this takes place in about the first third of the book. The rest of the book involves Billy, with Alice at his side, tracking down the mobster who had reneged on making the final payment for the job and his boss, a right-wing media tycoon (who sounds a lot like you-know-who) who had gotten the mobster to hire him. It is a rousing good tale and even though the book is not perfect, King's ability to keep the flow going and keep the story vivid is impressive. Maybe that's why he remains such a popular and successful writer year after year.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Comments

  1. I think I might like this - sounds like "Dexter"! Thanks for the review. In my younger years, I read every King book that came out but then lost interest in him in the 90s. I rarely read him anymore and attempted one that I can't recall the name of (something about a man with a double) and thought it was awful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are Dexterish elements to the story. And by the way, I just heard that "Dexter" is coming back to television. Such reboots are usually a mistake, but we'll see about this one.

      Delete
  2. I have read only one King novel, The Stand, but I could see his appeal as a writer (at least in that novel) is similar to that of Stephen Spielberg.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Terrific review Dorothy; this one was slow moving for me up to just before Alice entered the picture but I did enjoy the build up and all the literary elements along the way. I found it amazing, once again, just how creative Stephen King continues to be with each new vary different book he produces.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The action definitely picked up once his job was complete and he went into hiding and began looking for the ones who had wronged him.

      Delete
  4. I've only read three King books - Carrie, The Green Mile and The Dead Zone - and parts of The Stand. All were fantastic and I don't quite know why I never got more into King. I've been hearing a lot about Billy Summers. My reading has taken some strange directions lately so if I check it out (I might), it won't be for a while. But I enjoyed your review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never read much King either, other than his tweets which are often acerbic and on point. But I enjoyed this one quite a lot and I think you might, too.

      Delete
  5. It's been awhile since I've read any of S. King's books. I'm not sure this is one I'll ever pick up, but I do love the way he creates such memorable and unique characters in all of his books.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've got this one lined up as my next audiobook listen. I'm looking forward to it, especially since the narrator of the book I'm listening to now leaves a lot to be desired.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this one will work very well as an audiobook, assuming the narrator is up to the task.

      Delete
  7. This one sounds pretty good, even with that side plot you describe. It's been a long time since I've read any of King's novels, much preferring his short stories and novellas as I do, because of what I always feel is is tendency to over-write them and unnecessarily add pages that don't do much for the novel's main plot. I'll look into this one, I think, because it sounds more like a pure crime novel than what King usually produces.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's only one slightly paranormal moment in this one, having to do with a painting in a cabin where Billy hangs out for a while and does some writing. But, yeah, it is basically a crime novel/buddy road trip novel. I think you would probably like it.

      Delete
  8. I've only read a couple of King's book, but I do want to read this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never read much of his work, but I was intrigued by the description of this one and it didn't disappoint.

      Delete
  9. I've only ever tried to read two of King's books and didn't like them. This one sounds good though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was not a typical King book - more of a mystery/thriller type.

      Delete
  10. He's a quintessential storyteller ... I haven't read him in many years ... But I'm glad his plots are still enjoyable ...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Sounds like an interesting novel despite being less than perfect.

    How do you chose which books you'll read? Seems like you pick all the latest reads, which I think is wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do tend to focus on current publications. I check the best sellers lists and the list of new publications that come out each Tuesday and make note of the ones that interest me. But I also have a list of classics that I've missed reading in the past as well as certain series and authors that I follow. It all gets mixed together on my TBR list and then I pick whatever interests me at the moment.

      Delete
  12. My first thought was the show Dexter, a serial killer who only kills the bad guys. I really loved that show, and thought it was even better than the books, which is not usually possible. There's so much King left that I have not read yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The actor who played Dexter was just perfect in that roll. I think that is the main thing that made that series so great. I wonder if anyone has actually read all of King's books. It would be a full time job!

      Delete
  13. I just LOVE the books King keeps pumping out. I think you've predicted well that I'd like this book!

    I'm currently listening to it; I'm 2 hours in and highly enjoying it :) Billy has just started to write the first part of his book and life story ^^

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you are enjoying it so far and yes, I think you'll enjoy it the rest of the way as well.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Excerpt from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review

Poetry Sunday: Invitation by Mary Oliver