I’m a fan of Stephen King’s writing, but as a founding member of Wusses-R-Us, most of his novels are outside my comfort zone. Until BILLY SUMMERS. How can you not fall for a hitman who hides behind a dumb self, while thinking about Zola’s THERESE RAQUIN? Yes, he reads the classics … but uses comic books as props.
I was drawn to all the characters, but Billy was my favorite. A self-professed bad man, who only kills bad men for other bad men, he sees himself as a garbageman with a gun. He’s a loner, the Houdini of escape who trusts no one but himself, and a former marine with two Purple Hearts.
When he takes one last job, and goes undercover as a novelist, he begins to let people in, even though he knows it’s careless for a hired assassin. He plays Monopoly with the neighborhood kids, rescues a young woman in distress, and tends neighbors’ houseplants while they’re on a cruise. He even resuscitates the dying lawn of his rental property and refuses to use plastic grocery bags (bad for the environment). Despite his profession, Billy is someone who cares.
Getting to know him is a fascinating journey, aided by the fake novel he writes to protect his cover. From the beginning, Billy senses something is a little ‘wonky’ with the task he’s being paid two million dollars to accomplish, and his instincts prove right. Once he realizes he’s been set up, the novel turns into a memoir. He decides writing is a kind of war, one you fight with yourself.
We see the childhood that determined the course of his life and the trauma of his job as the best sniper in Iraq. And we see Billy put aside his many identities to claim his true self, with a sense of power that doesn’t come from a gun.
I was immersed in his world—past and present—and desperately invested in his future, which takes an interesting turn when he picks up an unlikely sidekick.
This is a fast-paced thriller, but also a story about the kindness of strangers, redemption, and hope. My verdict? Stunning.