Book review and synopsis for Billy Summers by Stephen King, a thriller about a hitman doing one last job that goes sour.
Billy Summers is a hitman and a decorated former Marine sniper. He's ready to retire, but before he does, he accepts one last job that offers a huge payday that would set him up comfortably for his post-hitman life.
However, as the details of it come together, he knows something about it feels very wrong.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chapter SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of Billy SummersQuick Plot Summary
The one-paragraph version: Billy Summers, 44, is a hitman who only kills "bad" men. He accepts one final job (from Nick) before he retires with a major payday attached. However, Billy starts to suspect Nick intends to kill him when the job is done. Sure enough, the job goes as planned, they try to kill him, but Billy gets away. He soon meets Alice, 20, who has just been sexually assaulted, and he helps her punish her attackers (non-lethally). Then, Billy confronts Nick. Nick tells him the one who ordered the job was Klerke (who wanted Billy dead since it was one less loose end). Klerke likes young girls, so Alice dresses up as a teenager so she and Billy can confront Klerke. Alice shoots Klerke. One the way out, the mother of one of the guys Billy injured comes out of nowhere and shoots Billy. He dies.
Billy Summers is a hitman and former Marine sniper who only accepts jobs killing "bad" men and wants to retire altogether. Nick, who Billy has worked for many times before, offers Billy one last job -- one that pays $500K upfront and $1.5M after it's done.
The target, Joel Allen, is also a hitman. He's wanted in the area for murdering a guy who won a bunch of money off of him in a poker game. Joel has been claiming that he has some valuable information that the police wants in order to make some type of deal, and apparently someone doesn't want him talking, which is why Billy has been hired to take him out.
The job requires Billy to spend quite some time as a resident in a small town where some office space has been rented out for Billy's use. The cover story is that Billy is a writer named David Lockridge who has been tasked by his agent to stay there and go to the office and write each day in an attempt to get him to meet his deadline. The office has a direct view to the courthouse, where Joel will eventually be taken to be arraigned for murder. Billy is meant to shoot him at that time and then disappear.
Billy gets suspicious when Nick offers up a getaway plan for after the hit takes place, since typically he leaves that up to Billy to figure out. Nick's plan involves Billy escaping in a city transit truck that will have someone waiting to drive him away. Billy suspects that Nick intends to then kill him. Instead, Billy starts to formulate his own plan.
While he waits for the big day, Billy also starts writing the fake book his character is supposed to be writing, just as a way to kill time because he wants to. He changes all the names, but writes about his own story, starting with his little sister being beaten and killed by his mother's drunk boyfriend when he was 11. Billy ended up finding a gun and killing the boyfriend. He later ended up in foster care and then joined the Marines at 17.
In present day, the shooting goes off without a hitch. Billy evades the transit truck and gets away by disguising himself as one of the office workers in the building. He then goes to hide out at an apartment he previously rented under another name, Dalton Smith, where he intends to lay low for a while since there is a media frenzy surrounding the shooting. When Nick doesn't pay him after the shooting is done and instead demands to know where he is, Billy knows that his suspicions about Nick were correct. He also soon learns there's a $6M bounty on his head.
While Billy is trying to remain out of sight, he sees a young woman get dumped out of a truck onto the street, drugged and half-dead. Not wanting to attract police attention to the street, he reluctantly goes out to save her. It turns out Alice, 20, had just been sexually assaulted by a group of men. Alice recognizes Billy as the person on the news as the shooter, but she ends up wanting to stay with him for a while.
As Billy continues writing his story, he writes about his experiences in the military and discovering that he was quite a talented sniper. He also writes about an incident in Fallujah where he and his buddies were sent to check out a large house and a majority of them were killed there. One of the survivors, Johnny Capps, later hooked Billy up with his first job as a hitman.
When it's time to hit the road, Billy first goes to confront Alice's attackers. He demands that two of them apologize to her over the phone, and then he sodomizes the last one (who was the one lured her there) with an object. After that, Billy and Alice head for a place in Colorado to meet with Bucky, who is Billy's "broker" and the only person Billy fully trusts, and to plan how to go after Nick.
At Nick's estate, Billy pretends to be a migrant worker who is there to deliver gardening supplies. He has to kill or injure a bunch of Nick's men, including seriously injuring a guy named Frank whose mother Marge also works for Nick. Billy manages to extract a promise from Nick to pay the money owed and to tell people that Billy is dead.
Nick also tells Billy that the person who ordered the shooting was Roger Klerke, a wealthy man who owns an assortment of media companies. Roger originally hired Joel Allen to kill his son, Patrick Klerke. Roger has a predilection for very young girls which Patrick had learned about, and he managed to get photo evidence of it. Then, when Patrick had learned that Roger wasn't planning on passing his company to him, he had lashed out by blackmailing Roger.
Joel Allen successfully killed Patrick, but in doing so Joel found out about the blackmail evidence as well. So, when Joel later got into his own trouble and was trying to use that information to cut a deal with the prosecution, Roger wanted Nick to hire someone (Billy) to kill Joel. Roger also wanted Billy dead to prevent a repeat of the Joel Allen situation.
Billy and Alice stay for a long time at Bucky's place, and Billy finishes writing his life story to bring it all the way to present day. Meanwhile, Billy learns that Frank lived but now get seizures and screams with pain all the time. When it's finally time to deal with Klerke, Alice takes photos of herself dressed up as a teenager to send to Klerke to entice him into meeting with them. Klerke takes the bait, and Alice and Billy show up at his place, and Alice shoots Klerke.
On their way out, Marge (Frank's mom) comes out from nowhere and shoots Billy. Billy shoots back. Marge dies, and Billy is injured. Alice and Billy rush off. (From here, the story is written as if Billy is writing it as part of his life story). When they get back to their hotel, Billy thinks about how he's bad for Alice, and she's better off being free from any outlaw stuff. He leaves with hopes of becoming a writer and maybe even someday being able to atone for the things he's done.
Then, in the final chapter, we learn that the last part of Billy's story was written by Alice, not Billy. Billy actually died and Alice wrote it to convey his thoughts and how she wished he would have survived.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.
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- Fun premise
- Good build-up of suspense
- Not a horror novel (may be a pro or con for you)
- Predictable plot turns
- Over-reliance on common tropes
- Questionable plot justifications
Wow 😳 That was a thorough review! Thank you so much. I never read or listen to him, but now I’m afraid that’s the audiobook I may have requested. 😩
Have to say I agree with everything you said!
I listened to the audiobook (all the way through!) but felt the delivery all wrong… which may have affected my overall enjoyment of the book, tbf.
I completely disagree with everything you said. I felt the book started out strange and mysterious only to turn surprisingly sweet and gentle once Alice showed up. I loved the way they bonded with each other and can safely say I didn’t see any of the surprises coming. Yes it was ultimately a revenge tale that pondered what the difference between right and wrong really means, but at it’s heart it was a love story between a man looking for redemption and finding that redemption in saving the young girls life. Billy Summers was very emotionally satisfying to me and I can honestly say I was moved to tears throughout. It’s easily the best thing he’s written since his masterful dark tower series ended.
I totally agree with the comments of Michael and Chris. This book grabbed me from the very beginning and held me in emotionally, initially due to Billy’s bonding with his neighbors and friends, and subsequently, due to his relationship with Alice. It’s a wonderful story about redemption, which is something we all need to see and hear more of in this increasingly cynical and oftentimes, heartless world we live in.
Thank you for doing this review! However, I side with Michael’s comment and found Billy Summers very enjoyable and hard to stop (I listened to the audiobook all the way through). True, some things were a little predictable. I grew to like Billy’s character and my favorite scene was his visit to Tripp & roommates to avenge Alice. The mentions of Trump and pandemic shutdown felt a little unnecessary to me, although maybe King included them to lock the time of the story into American history.
Actually I think Billy did survive. That’s what the stain and the bag of glass is.
We get it you did not have to mention it in your review 3 times…..you hate the book because you think it portrays “wishful male fantasy” as you said…..you hate it because a young girl was enamored with a man that saved him Nevermind he never even attempted to have sex with her, I guess it’s still a “male wish fulfillment” fantasy. :D In other words, your a diehard feminist don’t need no man. It was a very good book. Terrible review.