Billy Summers: The No. 1 Sunday Times Bestseller

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  1. This darned final coup

    I always feel that King writes at his best when the story has nothing to do with supernatural monsters, just your ordinary human varieties of evil. “Billy Summers” is a story painted in shades of gray. The anti-hero is quite likeable, but he’s also a killer. He won’t accept an assignment unless he’s convinced the target is a truly evil person, but he realizes, nevertheless, that as a hit man, he can’t claim to be one of the good guys.

    He leads his life between shadow and light, an existence of constant ambivalence. He is highly intelligent, but pretends to be a lowly simpleton who just happens to be blessed with an extraordinary talent for sharpshooting. There’s Billy, and there’s ‘dumb Billie’. His employers have no idea that there is always a Plan B, and a Plan C, and that he has set up a considerable number of false identities. Each one has IDs, credit cards, laptops, wigs, fake mustaches, everything he needs for a quick getaway. And this time, it looks like he’ll have to run – not only from the law, but also his clients. Billy has a bad feeling about this, and if it weren’t for the 2 million dollars he was promised…

    Billy’s ambivalence is just one aspect that makes the story inherently compelling. For readers, the real kicker is Billy’s current false identity. He needs an alter ego that will allow him to take residence in a certain area for several weeks or even months, without arousing suspicion. An ordinary apartment, an ordinary appearance, an ordinary friendly relationship with the neighbors – but not too friendly. Billy doesn’t want them to remember him too clearly.

    His clients, thinking him a complete idiot, come up with the ‘hilarious’ idea of passing him off as a promising writer who has rented a small office space near the courthouse. Out of pure sadism, they challenge Billie to actually write a bestseller. Hysterical.

    They are oblivious that Billy always wanted to be a writer, that this is a dream come through. However, he realizes that he has to dumb down his writing style, in order to not blow his half-wit persona. So he decides to write his autobiography – as ‘dumb Billy’ would tell it. It doesn’t take long before he is torn between the joy of writing and horrible memories, like the murder of his little sister when she was 9 and he was 11. More and more he realizes that he is giving voice to a childish self who has never been allowed to tell his story. The awkward writing style flourishes, unfolds a thrilling expressiveness and emotional force, brilliantly handled by King.

    This wasn’t part of the plan, but Billy’s cover as resident writer drags on for months. Camouflage friendships turn into real friendships, perhaps the first true friendhips in Billy’s life. The inevitable tragedy just bleeds from the pages as Billy can’t go back to his heartless existence. Why are you doing this to me, Mr. King?

    When Billys rescues young Alice, victim of a gang rape, his life becomes even more complicated than it already was. Here, King truly shines: he shows the hesitant interactions of these two people, both wounded in their own way, with subtlety and genuine depth. This careful togetherness, which never desovles into tacky mawkishness, changes Billy profoundly. He wonders: Is this cycle of violence and revenge, which he has been committed to, really what he wants out of life? Are there other options for him, after all? King avoids hackneyed feel-good vibes, and the ending is a stroke of genius – albeit one that leaves you with a pensive heartache.

    Bottom line

    Billy Summers is a hit man who only kills bad people, though he is well aware that this will not clear his conscience. For his latest assignment, his clients set up a cover identity for him; Billy takes on the role of an up-and-coming writer. Because he has always secretly wanted to write, he pens down his life story, from the point of view of his alter ego, ‘dumb Billy’. DB is a fake persona that he uses to make people believe he is stupid – and thus underestimate him.

    Billy. Dumb Billy. Billy, the fake writer. Billy, the actually talented writer. The book has as many layers as its surprisingly complex protagonist – and this complexity implodes when Billy rescues young Alice.

    King tells a deeply original story that draws its quiet suspense not from cheap shock effects. It arises from the facets of a life of tragic inevitabilities; a life that finally finds true expression in the protagonist’s writing.