Published by Simon and Schuster on August 3, 2021
Genres: Action & Adventure, Crime, Fiction, Suspense, Thrillers
Only Stephen King can get me to read a novel about an Iraqi war veteran turned hitman on a quest for revenge. King’s latest release, Billy Summers, is a thriller without supernatural elements. Billy Summers’ only rule, as a hitman, is he only accepts targets that are “bad guys”. He hopes his latest high-paying assignment will be his last. Billy poses as a writer in an office building across from a courthouse, waiting for an opportunity to take out a murderer as he is escorted up the courthouse steps to stand trial. He uses the downtime waiting for the day of the assassination to write a memoir, ironically becoming the writer he is disguised as.
The first half of this book was excellent. I love when authors make their protagonists writers, it is one of my favorite literary tropes. Billy suspects the individuals managing the hit are spying on his laptop, so he purposely writes his memoir in a dumbed-down voice, to hide his intelligence. Convincingly writing in different versions of one character’s voice is impressive and displays why King is a master storyteller. There are many parallels between Billy Summers and King’s outstanding Misery. Both novels feature male protagonists writing stories that are featured within the novels. Additionally, both Billy and Paul Sheldon are isolated indoors for the majority of their stories. I suspect Billy’s periods of isolation were inspired by King quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic. King does drop in references to another work in the Stephen King Universe, fans of The Shining will be pleased.
About halfway through Billy Summers there is a major plot shift that drives the action for the remainder of the book. I found the plot in the second half to be less compelling and began looking forward to finishing the novel so I could move on to my next one, which is never a good sign. There is a horrendous instance of brown face in the book, that made me wince. Billy uses many disguises in the novel, one of them is a Mexican gardener (Billy is not Mexican) and involves layers of spray tan. After his first coat of tan Billy is described as “a white man with a desert tan”. After a second coat Billy is still not convinced and says: “This might have been a bad idea” (p. 395). Yes, Stephen King this was a horrible idea to include in the story. The disguise is wholly inappropriate! How did your editors approve this? Please do better! The frequent digs at Trump that I have come to appreciate in King’s latest works are present, but do not make up for this unnecessary, and highly problematic plot point.
I would only recommend this book to Constant Readers (King’s name for his die-hard fans). If you are a Stephen King completionist like myself, I’m sure you will be picking this up no matter what reviews say. For everyone else, there are plenty of better options in King’s massive bibliography to choose from.
Trigger Warnings: Rape, Pedophilia, War Violence