In Review

In review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

King’s noirish thriller is his ‘best book in years’

Stephen King will always primarily be known as a horror novelist, said Neil McRobert in The Guardian. Yet his best recent books have been those in which “the ghosts are packed away and the monsters are all too human”. And the 73-year-old’s latest novel – a noirish tale, without a hint of the supernatural, about an assassin doing “one last job” – is his “best book in years”.

Billy, an ex-army sniper turned killer-for-hire, moves to a city in an unspecified southern US state, after being contracted to kill a small-time crook. While waiting for his shot, he passes himself off as a writer – a role he embraces so enthusiastically that he even “fills his time with writing his life story” (excerpts of which are reproduced).

The result is a somewhat meandering tale that “pays only the scantest regard to the rules of narrative structure”. Yet King is “so good at character and making us care” that it grips all the way to its “biblical climax”.

Although Billy Summers starts out seeming “easy to pigeonhole”, it turns into a “dazzlingly shape-shifting novel”, said John Dugdale in The Sunday Times. Halfway through, Billy encounters a rape victim – whereupon he transforms into a Jack Reacher-like figure, “righting wrongs via extrajudicial violence”. The shift is handled with “unshowy aplomb”.

This is a book with “designs on readers’ heartstrings as well as their adrenal glands”, said Jake Kerridge in The Daily Telegraph. Ultimately, its true subject is Billy’s quest to “redeem himself by trying to become a decent man”. There’s something implausible (not to mention sentimental) about the idea of a hitman going “full White Knight” – but it is made credible by King’s “storytelling genius”.

Hodder 432pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99

Stephen King
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

Recommended

Polestar 2: ‘Tesla ought to be paying attention’
Polestar 2
Expert’s view

Polestar 2: ‘Tesla ought to be paying attention’

Best portable heaters for al fresco hosting
Portable heaters
The wish list

Best portable heaters for al fresco hosting

Sleep in style: new UK hotels and places to stay
Leven Manchester
The big trip

Sleep in style: new UK hotels and places to stay

Emmy Awards 2021 - in pictures
Olivia Colman
In pictures

Emmy Awards 2021 - in pictures

Popular articles

Doctor says we should not sleep naked because of flatulent spraying
The feet of a person sleeping in a bed
Tall Tales

Doctor says we should not sleep naked because of flatulent spraying

Abba returns: how the Swedish supergroup and their ‘Abba-tars’ are taking a chance on a reunion
Abba on stage
In Brief

Abba returns: how the Swedish supergroup and their ‘Abba-tars’ are taking a chance on a reunion

The man tasked with putting a price on 9/11’s lost lives
Kenneth Feinberg at a Congressional hearing
Profile

The man tasked with putting a price on 9/11’s lost lives

The Week Footer Banner