Billy Summers: from killer to savior

Estimated read time 6 min read

Billy Summers: from killer to savior

At the end of the sixth (or seventh?) book about Russia, the USSR and the KGB, I needed to take a breath of literary air. I plunged into Billy Summers, a novel by Stephen King (whose birthday is today, happy birthday Stephen), published in France last year.

Smashed child

Billy Summers is not a horror or fantasy novel. We are on a very well-crafted thriller. This is not the first time that King has tried his hand at this style. The corpus of Different Seasons includes two stories devoid of horror and fantasy: the redemption of Shawshank and a gifted student. Billy Summers is almost in this case. There is a wink that we let you discover.

Billy Summers is a hitman, who has become who he is due to circumstances beyond his control. Not that he especially delights in this function, but, what else can we do when we don’t know what to kill? So, he follows the path that seems to have been laid out for him.

Nevertheless, he wants to hang up and the opportunity presents itself in the form of a golden contract. A last lap of the track before flowing peaceful and happy days. To become Mr. Everyone in a house in the suburbs, with a well-mowed lawn, charming neighbors, the weekend barbecue and a beer shared with a neighbor on the steps of the house.

Obviously, things are not going to turn out that way. The sponsor of the last contract thinks he’s an idiot. Which Billy is not. Begins an infernal spiral, panting and a grain of sand that will come to interfere in the gear.


This is not the first time that Stephen King has written about gender-based, sexual or marital violence. An important part of the story is devoted to Alice, our grain of sand, who illuminates the adventures of Billy Summers.

Alice was assaulted, by chance Billy saves her life. From victim, she passes to survivor and from survivor, she passes to executioner. Almost without a state of mind. After all, her attackers had no qualms about hurting her, why would she have any?

Billy saves her and takes it upon himself to change his psychological identity if we can summarize things like this. Alice is his redemption, a way to fix something that he has not been able to do in his past. It’s not explicitly said in the book, it’s watermarked in every page.

A relationship develops between them that is not only friendly, but not entirely romantic. A kind of touching in-between, with a rather sad denouement, but ultimately very logical, because, there could be no happy ending.

A friend who wants them well

In theory, a hitman works alone. In practice, Billy is flanked by Alice, but also by Bucky. He is an intermediary, to summarize things simply. He and Billy have a rather interesting and almost undetectable way of communicating. If one day, you need to deliver a message to someone, you can be inspired by it.

Bucky needs to provide Billy with an address. He sends him a coded message on a disposable phone, sending him back to a YouTube video of a group. The message is very simple, something like “I saw them in concert at such and such a place, they played a great 10-minute set”.

The process is reminiscent of dead mailboxes and it is very ingenious. If social networks are very fond of comments to feed the algorithms, few people actually read the comments. Who would go through all the comments under the video of a rock band and then check that yes, this band played well in such a place and actually did a specific set that lasted 10 minutes? At worst, someone would write “no, it’s wrong, they’ve never played in such a place” and the author can answer “you’re right, I confused it with something else, ha ha ha, it’s the age, soon the nursing home! »

The technique is elegant, because it is simple. It is reminiscent of the one used by Michael Scofield in Prison Break, who uses forums to leave messages. Except that a forum can be monitored and that you often have to be logged in to access messages. Who has the means to monitor all the videos and all the comments on YouTube? Especially since it is simply necessary that the recipient reads the message, he does not need to respond to it.

The question of veterans

Billy had a shattered childhood as we said and decides at the age of 17 to join the army. He is very quickly deployed in Iraq and we discover over the pages a part of the war. King does not directly address the issue of the treatment of American veterans, but we can guess it hollow.

Already at the time of Vietnam, no one really wanted to talk about veterans, this did not change in the 80s or in the 2000s and we can assume that this is still not the case now. We send men and women to war, but we forget to take them out of the war that has settled in their heads.

France is not necessarily doing better if we believe the various works of the National Assembly on this theme. However, with the war in Ukraine, we will have to seriously open this file. The specialists will pounce in front of this line.

Obviously, we cannot compare the American army and the French army, which do not have the same characteristics, nor the same recruitment, nor the same theaters of operations. But, the question remains the same: what to do with our soldiers after?

Billy Summers is a success and we are looking forward to the film adaptation, by J.J. Abrams. We know in advance that he will respect the master’s work since we owe him the wonderful miniseries 22.11.63 (11.22.63 in English). We don’t have a broadcast date yet, but, while waiting to discover it on the screen, immerse yourself in this novel of great finesse.

Billy Summers is available in physical and digital format and, in order not to miss any of Stephen King’s news, you can consult the Stephen King France website and the Stephen King club.

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