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#1 New York Times Bestseller

From legendary storyteller Stephen King, whose “restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained” (The New York Times Book Review), comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can’t-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won’t put this story down, and you won’t forget Billy.

This reading group guide for BILLY SUMMERS includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Billy Summers is a top-tier assassin with a heart of gold. When the job turns out to be a setup, Billy must switch gears and rewrite his plans entirely. While he’s laying low, he suddenly gains a completely unexpected and unlikely companion who opens his heart and who becomes his future partner in vengeance. The two forge ahead together, trying to put their darkest chapters behind them and ultimately find some sort of redemption.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. When interacting with others, Billy takes the precaution of projecting his “dumb self,” comparing it to a seatbelt. What do you think of this method of protecting oneself? Have you, or anyone you know, done anything similar?

2. In Chapter 5, Billy plays Monopoly with his David Lockridge neighbors, the Ackermans. During the game, he explains Hobson’s Choice, which means having to “decide between taking a chance or standing pat.” In what ways does this choice manifest throughout the book?

3. As Billy continues to write the story of Benjy Compson, in reality his story, he suddenly realizes that “he wants to be read” and that “any writer who goes public with his work is courting danger. It’s part of the allure. Look at me. I’m showing you what I am. My clothes are off. I’m exposing myself.” Despite being adept at hiding his true identity, it seems he wants to be known. Discuss why Billy specifically feels this way and why writers in general may crave this type of acknowledgment.

4. As an assassin, Billy maintains several undercover identities and social lives to hide in plain sight. How might these skills translate to writing skills? What else about Billy’s background makes him a surprisingly good writer, despite his lack of experience?

5. In Chapter 6, Billy has a conversation with Colin White where Colin shows how he changes to his aggressive lawyer persona, which confuses Billy as to whether he is “a good person or a bad one.” What do you make of Billy’s tendency to think in black and white? How might he be different if he allowed for gray areas? How might the story be different?

6. As Dalton Smith, Billy gets to know Beverly and Don Jensen, the couple who lives in the apartment upstairs. After Beverly’s mother passes away and leaves them two hundred thousand dollars, they exit the active story, going on vacation long-term, which helps out Billy but also makes him think about what his pay is really worth. What did this subplot add to the story overall? How does it impact Billy?

7. Chapter 10 is when the assassination of Joel Allen takes place. Discuss your experience reading through this chapter. How did you feel while reading? Was there anything that alerted you that something might be off? Discuss how King handles the suspenseful moments and deeply engages you.

8. Billy is known among his colleagues for asking if his targets are “bad men.” Later on, he has the following exchange with Alice:

“If [Tripp] was hurt that would make me happy. I suppose that makes me a bad person.”

“It makes you human,” Billy says. “Bad people need to pay a price. And the price should be high.”

What is your opinion on Billy’s moral code? How do you feel about the way he took revenge on Alice’s rapists? Was he justified, or do his actions also make him a bad man?

9. We learn about Billy’s military background by reading sections of the story he writes. What do these sections add to your understanding of Billy overall and how does that inform your understanding of his actions in the present?

10. Clay Briggs, Billy’s military buddy, teaches Billy two methods of calming panic attacks during their time in Fallujah, which Billy passes on to Alice: placing a wet washcloth over your face and singing “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” lyrics. Would you try these methods yourself? What do you think of the way mental health and psychological healing are dealt with in this story?

11. Bucky Hanson is mostly in the background throughout the story until Billy and Alice drive out to meet him toward the end of the novel. Billy calls him the only person he trusts completely. What is your impression of Bucky? How does King effectively make him come across as a trustworthy person. Did you ever distrust him?

12. When Billy and Alice go to confront Roger Klerke, the big bad guy of the story, Alice shoots and kills him instead of Billy. What does it mean to you that Alice is the one to take vengeance? What does this mean for the story overall?

13. Think about Billy’s final words to Alice and how he sets her up mentally and financially to begin a new life. What was your reaction to his speech? What do you think about Billy and Alice’s relationship? What kind of love did they share?

14. In the final pages of the book, Alice says, “Did you know that you could sit in front of a screen or a pad of paper and change the world? It doesn’t last, the world always comes back, but before it does, it’s awesome. It’s everything.” What do you think of this concept? Of the power of writing and storytelling? What is it worth?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Try to write your own story. Consider writing about yourself, or rewriting something in your life you wished had gone differently. Then, be brave and share with someone what you’ve written. How did this process feel for you? Does it help you better understand Billy, or writers in general?

2. Figure out a way to practically visualize the distance of Billy’s first shot as a sniper. A football field is about a hundred yards. The first shot that Billy ever made was over thirteen times that length. Consider getting a rangefinder, or just a pair of binoculars, and find a point in the distance that might approximate that distance. Alternatively, try walking a hundred yards thirteen times. (You do not need to complete this walk if you become tired)!

3. Listen to the full “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” song and sing along. Why do you think King chose these as the soothing lyrics Billy learns from Clay Briggs?
© Shane Leonard

Stephen King is the author of more than sixty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Billy SummersIf It BleedsThe InstituteElevationThe OutsiderSleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), and the Bill Hodges trilogy: End of WatchFinders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and a television series streaming on Peacock). His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark TowerItPet Sematary, and Doctor Sleep are the basis for major motion pictures, with It now the highest-grossing horror film of all time. He is the recipient of the 2020 Audio Publishers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award, the 2014 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

"King’s latest stars a killer-for-hire whose final assignment involves moving to a small Southern town and taking cover as a writer, a job that turns out to be as rewarding as killing bad guys. As for the hit, it doesn’t go so well, but that’s part of the allure of this twisty, multilayered thriller."
The Washington Post

“A noirish, unputdownable thriller that’s also King’s best book about his own craft since On Writing.”
People Magazine

“Multifaceted… hard-to-put-down… It’s two stories for the price of one, and King gives readers their money’s worth.”
—Amanda St. Amand, The St Louis Post-Dispatch

“King writes beautifully about both the seemingly humdrum details of small town living, the seedier backwaters of America and of the idiosyncrasies of Summers, as compelling a main character as he’s ever written…a refreshingly straightforward, often wildly entertaining and intricately plotted tale of revenge and redemption.”
—Emily Burnham, Bangor Daily News

“A testament to its author’s undimmed energy and confidence. His eye for detail, especially at the dreckier end of roadside culture, is sharp…lively and vivid.”
The New York Times Book Review 

“Among the many remarkable things about Stephen King is that he has yet to run out of ideas. Or put another way: He’s very good at finding new ways to explore themes that have interested him his entire career… The passages where Billy writes his life story are some of the best in the book… It’s when [Billy] finds an audience for his story that the book really starts to find its groove.”
—Rob Merrill, The Associated Press

“A first act of stunning formal control… a delicious engine of tension… a delightfully tense crime thriller… somehow both hard-boiled and human, and on par with much of King’s best work… King can still build tidal waves of tension from the smallest deviation from plan, sending Constant Readers plunging deep into the flop-sweat insecurities of his heroes as they watch a situation potentially spiral out of control. In situating Billy’s atonement in communication and creation, not violence, King manages to find a space for redemption… Billy Summers is winningly optimistic about the life of the creative mind. More than almost any other King book in recent memory, it’s a product of its time, but not a victim of it.”
—William Hughes, The AV Club

“Stephen King is an artist, and readers and critics who underestimate him do so at their own peril…Billy Summers is a very good story, told economically with an ear for rhythm. It’s about what it’s like to be a human being, and how that doesn’t really change much, no matter what situation you find yourself in…while there are plenty of action sequences, the heart of this novel lies in its quietest moments.”
—Philip Martin, The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

“A love letter to the transformative effects of putting words on paper…the impassioned argument Mr. King makes for the role of writing in healing traumas is heartfelt and affecting… fast-paced and cleverly constructed… written with Mr. King’s legendary eye for detail, and his ability to immerse readers in the mindsets of fictional characters serves the story well… witnessing this deeply-scarred man discover a new way of seeing himself and his place in the world is beautifully resonant. Mr. King’s sheer pleasure in the alchemy of turning mere words into entire universes is on full display here, and it is contagious — not just for Billy, but perhaps for Constant Readers as well.”
—Wendeline Wright, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Stephen King hits the mark with assassination thriller Billy Summers…It’s downright unfair, really: Not only is Stephen King an undisputed master of horror, he’s a virtuosic crime novelist as well… King actually is as good at the hard-boiled prose—in this case, the tale of an extremely effective assassin trying to get out after one last job—as he is the scary stuff… King’s known for his literary villains, yet in creating his killer title protagonist, he exquisitely gets into the mind of a hitman and roots around in there to figure out what kind of person would do wetwork, the loneliness involved for those who choose that as a career path and the effect it would have on friends and loved ones… The biggest crime here, however, would be missing out on Billy Summers and King’s new reign as a pulp genius.”
—Brian Truitt, USA Today

"King’s latest endeavor begins with a familiar premise: decorated veteran Billy Summers, a principled hit man on the eve of retirement, agrees to do one last job. Things go south in spectacularly bad fashion, making for a characteristically King thriller about luck, fate, and redemption. To see the undisputed master of horror shift into the realm of noir thrillers is proof that King can still surprise and astound us, all these decades later."
Esquire

"King has multiple novels in play here—thriller, at least two coming-of-age stories, and a knockout road novel—and he knits them together beautifully, never missing a stitch ... King has never been better than he is here at wrapping readers into a propulsive, many-tentacled narrative—complete with a perfectly orchestrated, moving ending."
Booklist, starred 

"[A] tripwire-taut thriller... King meticulously lays out the details of Billy’s trade, his Houdini-style escapes, and his act to look simpler than he is, but the novel’s main strength is a story within a story... This is another outstanding outing from a writer who consistently delivers more than his readers expect."
Publisher's Weekly, starred

"The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller ... Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master." 
Kirkus, starred

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