Title: Billy Summers
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Stephen King’s stories sometimes aren’t so much about the journey but the people and places we encounter along the way, and Billy Summers may fall into that category. Not that there’s an issue with the story. King knowingly, overtly – his protagonist knows the narrative he is playing out – lets us know this is the story of a hitman lining up his last hit and hoping to bag a retirement nest egg in the process.
Of course it’s going to go wrong, of course the hitman is going to try to save his neck, maybe take some revenge, right some wrongs. There will be complications.
But this is not, as Summers himself says, a Sly Stallone movie. King keeps it down to earth – with the exception of one little decorative aside, a nod to one of King’s early great successes – and provides the signature touches to freshen up this well-worn path.
King’s hitman is softened for the reader, a Marine with Iraq under his belt, a man with, as one character remarks, a moral code. He is fallible. What’s more, Summers is well read, a budding writer. And so the story swings, in beautiful rhythm, between key events in Summers’ past and his current predicament. Summers, well versed in the genre of his life, has an almost meta awareness of the role he is playing out, the dichotomy of being, if not a bad man then not a good man, who only kills bad men for his living. That awareness and his experimentation with writing allow for occasional ruminations and insights into the writer’s life, and reminders that this is not a Hollywood script – if he is writing the story of his life, it is not a fanciful tale; likewise, this tale in which he is starring is not fanciful.
Further elevating the story is King’s ability to present human characters – the warmth of relationships, the care for each other – and that sublime power of description. If a scene is a paint by numbers image, Kings know he needs fill in only sections 3, 4 and 7 for the reader to get the full picture, whether its street-to-street fighting in Fallujah or an unassuming rental in a middling neighbourhood of a nondescript American town.
And so we have it: set up, incident, aftermath, leading to the inevitable final comeuppance and the question of will he or won’t he, and the damage done along the way. And finally there’s the conclusion and the epilogue, which are pure killer.
Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung
Jason is Ballarat Writers Inc. publicity and communications officer
Review copy provided by the publisher