To start with, the character of Billy Summers is immediately sympathetic because as a reader of comic books he’s obviously not as smart as the reader and that’s going to excuse a lot of things. But, without telling anyone, he understands the allusions in some conversations, so he’s certainly not dumb either. What Billy is, is a hired gun, about to retire and now going out on his last job. It’s important to Billy that he only kills “bad people.” Playing dumb is part of his disguise, his cover.
By Stephen King
2021 / (527 pp)
Read by Paul Sparks 16h 57m Rating; A / crime
I’ve never cared for Stephen King’s scary books because of the horror stuff, but this book is different. I read The Stand for a reading group and I read two of his later books, 11/22/63 and Under the Dome as they’re not horror. The former is about time travel, the latter is dystopian. I tried other King novels over the years, but for one reason or another I couldn’t ever get through Chapter 1 of them. And I didn’t care for his nonfiction either and could barely get started with them. (I have enjoyed the few movies I’ve seen.)
But I totally appreciated what King did for the US publishing industry and was very pleased when he was awarded the National Book Award for Lifetime Contribution to American Letters – because his work is important and he’s done a lot for American letters.
So about Billy Summers. Yes, as far as I know this is different from his other works. It’s just a contemporary crime novel but the point of view is that of a man who shoots bad men for a living. He’s a hired gun, the guy the mobs go to when they’re willing to pay a lot to get rid of certain people.
But shortly after the novel begins, Billy also becomes a writer putting his life story into words, a memoir. The past includes a horrendous childhood and a brutal stint in the Marines during the Iraq War. The memoir is a substantial alternating thread in the novel – a whole back story.
I do want to say that there’s a good story in Billy Summers and it winds up wonderfully well without having to have a “happy ending.” King packs his stories just as far as my suspension of disbelief will go – no further.
So I really wanted to enjoy this book and I did that, but there’s still nothing substantial about it, imo. His novel 11/22/63 was better, imo, but Under the Dome wasn’t quite as good.
The idea of writing a memoir as an alternative plot line gave the novel an original and somewhat literary twist, imo.
King does very well with deep and complex character development and with twisty plots – I think this tends to make his novels long. But his general writing skills stay pretty much at a 7th grade reading level. This may be deliberate because from what I’ve seen on the fiction market, that’s probably what sells best.
I’ll keep my eye out for future novels by King and if they look like something I’d appreciate I’ll try them, but I’ll still skip the horror. I guess I’m kind of open minded in a way, about something most people either love or hate. 🙂