You never know what Stephen King will write about next.
His 64 novels and 11 book collections (one book for every year he’s lived) span several genres: horror and the supernatural, crime and suspense, science fiction and fantasy.
While he’s leaned toward crime novels in recent years, his latest, “Billy Summers” (Scribner, 2021, 528 pages) is more than that: an antihero portrait, war account, artist chronicle and almost-love story in one.
In the Stephen King library, this would be beside “The Shawshank Redemption,” not “The Shining” nor “It.”
Billy Summers is a gun for hire given a seemingly easy job with an amazing payout— good enough for him to finally retire. He’s an erudite man pretending to be stupid (using “the dumb self”) and he knows that in the movies, that “one last job” always goes bad. But he takes the offer. His handlers create a cover story of him being a newbie author; he finds himself actually enjoying writing as his “dumb self.”
Through writing, he comes to terms with childhood trauma and war tragedies during his army stint. He continues writing even after the one last job and through everything that happens after it.
The first few chapters, where King shares Billy’s thoughts as he takes on his one last job, are a master class in character development. King’s elegant and often hilarious descriptions of Billy and the people involved in his one last job are the biggest reason this book is difficult to put down—you want to know what happens to them. You want the one last job to be a good one.
At its midpoint, the novel’s tone and pace take an unexpected, ultimately satisfying turn and notions of King as Master of Horror will be forgotten. He’s just a darned good storyteller and he makes Billy Summers a character to remember.
This is a full-on noir tale, darkness without shades of the supernatural. In the first half, we see death through guns at home, at war, in everyday life. The second half shows a different kind of violence, this time wrought on women and children. It’s as if King was saying, “You want horror? I’ll show you horror.” He’s not imagining it, he’s making you feel it.
This is arguably King’s best novel in recent years, a good choice for those who have yet to enter his library. It’s not all dark in there. There’s something for everyone and yes, there’s more to come.
Available from National Book Store, nationalbookstore.com, Shopee, Lazada.