- 01 Sep 21
The Hitman And Her
While fans of King's supernaturally scary fare might be disappointed - and Trump fans are advised to give this one a wide swerve - Billy Summers is good news for the sort of timid reviewer that was too 'nervous' to even watch It with his tough-as-nails teenage daughters, because what's on offer here is straight noir. I'm aware, of course, that far more people are killed by guns than sewer clowns - or whatever it was about - but they're more my cup of tea when it comes to thrillers, and this is a rather good one.
Billy’s a hit man who only takes out bad people. Yes, we’ve heard that one before but a storyteller of King’s calibre will always hurdle such cliché with an Olympian’s ease. He's also an ex-army sniper, because of course he is. And, you guessed it, this is going to be his last job. On the other hand, the well-drawn Summers presents a mask to those around him – his dumb self – and so is constantly underestimated. In reality, he’s a thoughtful individual who reads Zola and Thomas Hardy, and feels genuine upset when circumstances force him to lie to people he comes to like.
When he’s hired to dispatch another hit man - I know - Summers must go undercover in an unnamed city as he waits for the take down. The first half of this fair-sized tome then details how Summers ingratiates himself with the locals, who he becomes fond of. They enjoy parties together and he plays monopoly with the children, one of whom makes a crayon drawing of him that he's loath to part with. While all this is going on, Summers is smart enough to smell something foul in the set-up. Rather than take the escape route offered by those who hired him, he creates another identity to give himself at least the chance to get clear.
It's while under this guise that he picks up an unlikely ally - I can tell you no more than that without giving the game away - who turns the book around. The pace picks up and the pages, which were already hurtling by anyway, start to turn at a faster clip.
Another part of Summer's cover in the novel's first half was the writing of a book of his own about his past. He recounts how he ended up in foster care, the hard times that followed, and then his army days in Fallujah. The trick is - and it's a good one - that Summer's book slowly takes over from the one we started reading, thanks to some seriously impressive footwork from King. He makes it look awful easy - even dropping in a casual reference to a rather iconic hotel, especially for those people I mentioned in the first paragraph - and knocks another one out over the wall here.