Early on in this novel, Stephen King identifies the ‘one last job’ trope in crime fiction as a sub genre in its own right. And, as he points out, that ‘one last job’ seldom goes smoothly.
Enter Billy Summers, a hit man with literary aspirations who is acutely aware of the perils that come with accepting that notorious ‘one last job’. However, he has been offered a deal too good to pass up on. His target is a vicious killer who has dirt on a powerful figure, and by way of prep for the hit, Billy is required to embed in a quiet suburban neighbourhood for a few months, posing as – you’ve guessed it – a writer.
So, not only is our likeable anti-hero destined to find himself several mil better off for pulling the trigger, but he also lands the perfect opportunity to do something that’s been on his mind for a while; write his life story.
Needless to say, the hit turns out to be more complicated than Billy had hoped and he’s forced to go into hiding. His plan is to lie low until the heat dies down, but here King throws a curveball his way in the shape of a young woman in distress called Alice Maxwell.
In a fantastic narrative device, we follow Billy’s thrilling crusade to avenge his new friend and get to the bottom of who set him up. Meanwhile, via his ongoing autobiographical outpourings, we learn all about his experiences in Iraq, where he learnt his sniper skills.
This novel is so brilliantly written that it made my head spin. Billy is an instantly engaging protagonist with hidden depths and a fascinating back story. Alice too is likeable, resilient and compelling. Their unfolding relationship, as they learn to navigate each other’s past traumas, forms the heart of this riveting story.
King’s style of writing is so reliably slick that it requires no effort at all to keep reading. My eyes could not stop skimming over those words, eager to get onto the next page, and then the next, and the next. And right at the end, just when you think the sunset beckons for our protagonists, he manages to pull the rug from under your feet with one last ingenious sleight of hand.
It’s no wonder that every new book published by Stephen King is seen as an event.
Good review, Richard. It’s hard to top King!
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How does he do it? He never fails to dazzle.
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