It's marvelous that Stephen King is still here, and still on top. There's a damn good reason he has retained his publishing crown. He's good. Maybe even great.

For nearly forty years I've been in love with his writing, and when a new book comes along, I am excited as hell, and I lose myself over the course of several days and nights. I haven't loved them all, but I probably enjoy two-thirds of them, which is pretty good for a writer of his prolificacy. And the ones I didn't care for? It might be time for re-assessment.

Billy Summers is Stephen King's latest novel. I am overjoyed to report that it is one of his best. Honestly, I am not sure he has ever written a better book.

I wasn't especially excited about what I heard about the plot. Billy Summers deals with a hitman who is on his final job. Of course things go awry. This is familiar territory. And, yes, the story follows a well-worn path. The assassin wants out. The job goes bad. He seeks revenge on the employers who betrayed him. You can see Jason Straitham, Matt Damon, or Liam Neeson sleepwalking through the story. Or even Charlize Theron.

Billy Summers, the character, is a complicated creation. He is a blend of contradictions. He sees himself as a good man, who only operates against what he perceives as bad men. His life is haunted by a tragic and horrifying past. He learned his trade courtesy of the United States government.

Things do go sour on his final job, and it is Billy's conscience and essential decent nature that lead to serious complications. He becomes paired with a young woman, but don't expect the creepy older guy and barely legal teen romance you get too often in these kind of stories. The woman is another wonderful character, who has depths and contradictions of her own.

Billy Summers requires a bit of patience for its first two-hundred pages. I urge everyone to stick with it. You will be rewarded. King put his hook in me, and gradually reeled me in. I almost broke the line and escaped a couple of times, but master angler that he is, he teased me in until I was caught. By the time I reached the halfway point of Billy Summers, I was completely in his hands.

I thought I knew what was going to happen by the end, but King pulled the wool over my eyes. It wasn't so much of a twist he used. No, nothing as gimmicky as that. It was more of a surprise. It was a master stroke that could only be pulled off by a writer at the very top of his game.

I was thinking that Billy Summers is a very well-written book, but it would not be one of my favorite King novels. I was dead wrong about that. I'm still processing the book, but it is easily in my top five of his publications. Possibly even closer to the top than that.

Written by Mark Sieber

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