When Billy Summers was twelve years old, he shot and killed his mother's boyfriend after he kicked Billy's sister to death. At 17, he enlisted in the army. At 18, he was a sniper in Iraq and involved in the deadly battle to recapture Fallujah. For nearly twenty years, he's worked as a paid assassin. He's a good guy in a bad job, and he wants out. He takes on a very complicated, very lucrative job that he hopes will be his last.
... a dazzlingly shapeshifting novel that, like its antihero, only pretends to be easy to pigeonhole ... Handling each genre with unshowy aplomb, King creates a kind of 'Best Of' album of his (non-fantasy) work, given cohesion by Billy’s story. As it’s neither overlong nor overfull of adorably quirky kids, Billy Summers is also set apart by being free of the self-indulgent tendencies of his recent output. Disciplined but adventurous, equally good at action scenes and in-depth psychology, King shows with this novel that, at 73, he’s a writer back at the top of his game.
It meanders, it pays only the scantest regard to the rules of narrative structure, it indulges gladly in both casual stereotyping and naked political point-scoring. And it’s [King's] best book in years ... King has always excelled at sketching everyman’s US, enriching the details into a minor epic register. It’s what elevates him above his genre peers, and it’s in full force here ... By the inevitable, biblical climax, unlikely plot contrivances or dated sexual politics are forgiven, because we can’t help but be won over by the eternal figure of the lone individual making a stand ... He may always be considered a horror novelist, but King is doing the best work of his later career when the ghosts are packed away and the monsters are all too human.
[King] actually is as good at the hard-boiled prose – in this case, the tale of an extremely effective assassin trying to get out after one last job – as he is the scary stuff ... King’s known for his literary villains, yet in creating his killer title protagonist, he exquisitely gets into the mind of a hitman and roots around in there to figure out what kind of person would do wetwork, the loneliness involved for those who choose that as a career path and the effect it would have on friends and loved ones ... Those worried he’s gone full Raymond Chandler, never fear: King makes it clear that Billy Summers very much exists in his creepily familiar world. It’s also very much a part of ours as well, with a few Donald Trump references and a foreshadowing of the COVID-19 crisis as Billy hunkers down and has to watch life go by outside, less because of a pandemic and more because of his morally questionable chosen profession ... The biggest crime here, however, would be missing out on Billy Summers and King’s new reign as a pulp genius