The Hired Gun with a Heart of Gold: Billy Summers by Stephen King

Life really is all about context and perspective, isn’t it?

One person’s enemy is another’s best friend. You say he’s a sociopath, I say he’s a saint. It’s all relative.

And so it goes with Stephen King’s latest, Billy Summers. Our protagonist, an Iraqi war vet with a steady hand and lightning fast trigger finger, Billy makes his living working for bad men taking out even worse people.

I mean, everyone has a line in the sand, right? Even hired killers have their limits.

Readers are introduced to Billy as he is set up in small town America by his mob employer, hired to eliminate a man that’s set to be extradited from the West Coast to face murder charges. Someone wants him dead before he can talk his way out of a death sentence, and Billy is the man.

Posing as an author, Billy settles into his new environment, his new neighborhood and even his new “career,” discovering that writing his life story is both productive as an actual cover for his presence and therapeutic for his personality. That said, it’s also wrought with complications, in that hired assassins usually don’t welcome people into their lives, and when the neighbors really do become friends, it isn’t just their feelings he’s risking anymore when the job goes down and he leaves town.

Billy’s always had a feeling something isn’t quite straight with this job, and once the shot is fired, he finds himself on the other end of a contract. To disappear into a new identity isn’t impossible, but Billy wants to know why — and in the midst of his plan to find out, Alice Maxwell is pushed out of a van and into his life.

Shots at redemption come in many forms, and for Billy it’s a barely 21-year-old, traumatized college student.

To say much more would rob you of the enjoyment that comes from watching Billy and Alice make their way through the story, so I will just say this: There’s good, there’s bad, and there’s also quite a bit of overlap when it comes to rendering judgement on people you meet. This story is sweet (with a touch of supernatural, of course, and a King fan favorite cameo too!) despite its pretense, and I miss Billy, Alice and Bucky. But not Marge. Whew — watch out for moms on the rampage.

I’m embarrassed it took me a month to finish it — it’s easily a weekend read. Life just got in the way, along with the onset of the holidays, and I would sneak a few pages in pretty much every night before bed. The pace is on the slow side for the first half of the novel, but it’s necessary in order for readers to appreciate Summers’ many layers. The story picks up in the second half, making it a lot harder to put down. Another great read from one of the best. If you’re gift giving this season and you have a thriller fan on your list, Billy Summers won’t disappoint.

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