Friday Book Whimsy: Billy Summers

I liked two things about the novel Billy Summers: 1) I love the complexity of characters who do very bad things but are inherently good and likable; and 2) I’m never endingly impressed with the story telling abilities of author Stephen King.

Billy Summers is a hit man. A skilled sniper trained in the military, he kills for a living, and has ended the lives of many people. He has one rule, however. Strange as it might seem, Billy only kills people who have done very bad things.

Even with this rule, Billy is ready to hang up his assassin rifle and move onto a simpler life. He is coerced, however, into one more assignment — to kill an especially bad man while he is being transported from jail to the courtroom where he will be tried. Reluctantly, Bill agrees to this assignment because of the evilness of the man involved, not to mention the million dollars he would be able to carry off to his retirement somewhere where no one would find him.

He sets the stage by portraying a man working under deadline on a novel in an office with a clear shot to the courthouse exchange. Since he has time to kill (no one is certain as to when the trial will take place), Billy decides to actually try his hand on writing.

The result of all of this is a compelling story about a multifaceted man who tells the reader much of his story via the book he is writing. To make matters even more interesting, following the successful hit, Billy meets a young woman named Alice who was brutally raped by three men and dumped in front of the apartment where Billy is hiding out until the dust clears.

The relationship between Billy and this young woman is tender, despite the gritty nature of their life together. It is not romantic, but more of a uncle/niece type of relationship. Alice saves Billy and Billy saves Alice.

I love Stephen King’s writing, though I have no interest in his horror stories. His characters are realistic, and the stories are always unique. The book was slow reading in spots, and quite long, but overall, getting to know Billy Summers was worth some slogging.

I recommend the book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Later

Hard Case Crime is a collection of hardboiled detective stories, some old reprints, some newer novels, written by a large number of different authors. Most of the authors’ names are familiar: Donald Westlake, Earl Stanley Gardner, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain, to name just a few.

One of the more familiar contributors to this collection is the oh-so-prolific author Stephen King. King is most well-known for his horror collection of books, many which have been made into spooky movies. But he has written a few detective/mystery books, and the ones I’ve read are as well-plotted as he scarier stories.

Later, by Stephen King, is one of the books in the Hard Case Crime collection, which is how it caught my eye. As usual, King did not disappoint.

Jamie Conklin is a young kid much like every other pre-teen. There is one distinct difference between Conklin and others: he is able to see an talk to dead people, primarily those who have died recently. He has admitted his “gift” to his mother, who has urged him to keep his secret to himself. Unfortunately, she doesn’t follow her own advice, and tells her girlfriend — a corrupt NYPD cop — about Jamie’s abilities. She immediately sees how this gift could help her advance her career and make good — if illegal — money out of the deal.

Jamie gets caught in the crossfire between his mother and his mother’s girlfriend, much to his dismay. And just when things are getting dangerous, help comes from an unexpected, if reluctant, ally. Parts of the book are plain scary!

King’s ability to combine pure mystery with just enough horror to keep it interesting makes for a really readable novel. Jamie is very likable, and the reader empathizes with the pull between his desire to keep his mother safe and helping a corrupt cop with her dastardly crime. I could almost feel Jamie’s preteen angst.

I really enjoyed Later.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Mr. Mercedes

I love mysteries and thrillers, and I thought I knew all of the established authors of books from this genre. So it was with great surprise that I discovered a three-book mystery series that began in 2014, written by Stephen King. I have not read King’s previous novels, because I’m not a fan of horror stories that involve snarling dogs or murderous cars. Give me a good ghost story any day. But I did read and review his memoir/writing textbook called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craftand liked it oh-so-much, despite my dislike in general of most memoirs. The book gave me a flavor of King’s writing, which is amazingly good.

Mr. Mercedes is the first in the trilogy starring retired police detective Bill Hodges. Hodges is bored to death with retirement, and sick of sitting in his chair in front of the television watching Judge Judy. He has, in fact, contemplated taking his own life.

And then he receives a letter from an anonymous person who claims it was he who drove a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of people at a job fair, killing eight and injuring many more. Hodges had worked the case after it happened, but he and his partner were unable to get a handle on the murderer before the police detective retired. The letter contains enough information that was never told to the public to make Hodges believe the sender really is who he claims.

Meanwhile, Brady Hartsfield is jonesing to have another go at murdering a crowd of people, and is waiting for the right time and event. In the meantime, he continues to send letters to Hodges containing information that leads the detective to know he is being watched.

Hodges has renewed energy as he attempts to find the murderer before he kills again.

Friends, I couldn’t put the book down. It is clear that Stephen King could write a book in any genre. I can’t wait to read the second novel in the trilogy.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

There’s a couple of reasons why I should have hated author Stephen King’s memoir/writing textbook On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. First, I dislike most memoirs. I believe that the majority of people are just like me with lives that are pretty ordinary. Thus, I believe one must be extraordinarily full of oneself to justify writing a memoir. Second, I am in the .00002 percent of the world’s population who has never — not EVER — read a novel by Stephen King. It isn’t that I am protesting his prolificacy. On the contrary, more power to a person who can come up with that many ideas. He has written 58 novels, six non-fiction books, and some 200 short stories. And I’ve read exactly none. I just am not a fan of horror stories that involve talking cars and snarling giant dogs. I’ve loved the movies made from his books, however. Go figure.

At any rate, despite the fact that I SHOULD have hated this book, instead, I loved it.

The first part of the book is mostly memoir — his own fairly self-deprecating story of his ordinary life growing up in the 50s and 60s. It was a nostalgic walk down Memory Lane for me as in many ways, his life duplicated mine and many other Baby Boomers. But the story of his youth painted a clear picture as to why he ended up being a writer, and specifically primarily a writer of horror fiction.

The second part of the book is a writing lesson. I will freely admit that I’m a writing geek. I love grammar and vocabulary, and I mostly always have. King’s lessons were not preachy, just practical. Basically, he says, if you want to be a writer, then you must write, write, write. Find a spot where you are comfortable and write. Pay attention to life around you and write. Find someone with whom you are comfortable and let them critique what you write.

Even if you aren’t a writer and have no desire to become one, this book is an interesting look at an ordinary man during one of the best times to be a kid, and told by someone who can write one heck of a good story.

Here is a link to the book.