Book Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King @StephenKing @ScribnerBooks

Billy Summers
Stephen King
Scribner, August 2021
ISBN 978-1-9821-7361-6
Hardcover

I’ve been a Stephen King fan for a long time but over the past few years I’ve drifted away from reading his work. I’m not too sure if it was simply because I wasn’t altogether fond of his darker novels.  I used to say I’d rather read the scary stuff than watch it in a movie or television series, but I’ve found I’m not enjoying reading anything too dark with too much graphic scenes of murder and mayhem.

With a title like Billy Summers  (everyone knows a guy named Billy who can generally be a friendly helpful individual and of course Summers gives the impression of a warm, lazy, easy-going guy who is well-liked).  And after reading a few positive reviews and comments regarding King’s latest offering, I became intrigued and decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.

Billy Summers is an intriguing character. He’s a hired killer and has been for a number of years.  He’s also a decorated Iraq war vet and one of the best snipers in the world. So says the inside flap on the hardcover.  He has one rule, however, when it comes to a proposed victim, he must be a truly bad guy. Billy has been paid well for his skill and for the fact that he manages to successfully slip away unnoticed from these ‘jobs’.

Getting on in years Billy has plans to retire, but after much thought he accepts this latest and, as far as he’s concerned, last job.  There is much planning and possibly weeks of waiting.  Billy moves to an apartment while he waits for final instructions re the ‘job’ and spends his time reading, a favourite pastime. Told to keep a low profile he soon gets bored, and decides to pass the time writing his own life story, but changing his name.

So there are two stories now running parallel.  Slowly but surely you grow to like and even admire this man, learning how his early life played out and influenced the choices he made, adding a depth of understanding to just how he became a hired killer.

But Billy is also a careful, thoughtful, and smart guy who begins to doubt the motives and plans of the men who have hired him.  Billy has tended over the years to cultivate the impression he is a quiet guy and one who is a little simple-minded. And as an added precaution, decides to make plans of his own, a backup, for when the job is done.

And there’s more! Much more!  And  if you want to find out how Billy fares, my advice is to grab a copy and read Billy Summers, one of King‘s best novels to date….

Trust me you won’t regret it…

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, January 2022.

Book Review: High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann

High Crimes
The Georgia Davis PI Series #5
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-938733-95-6
Trade Paperback

High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann is the fifth book in her Georgia Davis private investigator series. It closely reflects the unsettled U.S. political climate of the past two years. Dena Baldwin is the leader of a resistance movement that begin after the U.S. presidential election of 2016. At the beginning of a major protest demonstration in Chicago, a sniper shoots her and several of her colleagues from a nearby hotel roof and is presumed to have killed himself with a bomb. Baldwin’s mother hires Georgia to learn more about the killer and what prompted him to kill her daughter, since the local police and the FBI have drawn a blank. Sifting through the backgrounds of more than 40,000 members of the organization to identify potentially problematic members is the only lead she has, and she enlists tech support to help her. She learns the victim’s estranged father is a political lobbyist in Washington, DC, with questionable associates, giving her another avenue for her research. And the shooter’s sister has vanished, leaving Georgia to wonder why.

In the meantime Georgia’s lover is pressing her to move in with him. Georgia is seriously considering it, as her younger sister and baby have taken over her small apartment. But when she mentions it to her sister Savannah, Savannah takes the idea as a sign of abandonment, creating family complications that Georgia is at a loss to deal with.

Georgia balances family needs against a progressively more complex investigation, creating an involved mystery with multiple threads that come together in a credible but not-too-neat conclusion. Well-written, smoothly paced. For fans of books with strong women leads, private investigator mysteries, and contemporary political thrillers.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is a versatile award-winning writer with two crime series, stand-alone thrillers, and many short stories in her bibliography.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, November 2018.

Book Review: The Ultimatum by Dick Wolf

the-ultimatumThe Ultimatum
A Jeremy Fisk Novel #3
Dick Wolf
William Morrow, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-0622-8686-4
Mass Market Paperback

Merritt Verlyn, loosely patterned on WikiLeak personage Julian Assange, is arrested and held in jail pending trial.  Then a series of sniper attacks begins, with the continued threat of one person being killed each day until Verlyn is released from prison.  Detective Jeremy Fisk takes the lead in an effort to stop the killer who has brought the City of New York to a standstill.  Meanwhile a Mexican cartel has placed a contract on the NYPD intelligence detective, adding to his woes.

Thus begins an exciting chase with plenty of action.  Originally, Verlyn, who possessed thousands of classified and sensitive documents, released a few to Chay Maryland, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, including Fisk’s unlisted home address, exposing him and others to vast dangers, setting up a conflict for the need of secrecy vs. Second Amendment rights.  The question of how this will be resolved is another interesting development.

The conclusion is far-out, more suited to a technocratic motion picture, perhaps, but makes for more and more thrilling descriptions, a specialty of the author, the writer, producer and creator of the TV series “Law & Order”.  Part of a series, the novel is a page-turning stunner, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron

The Bone OrchardThe Bone Orchard
Mike Bowditch Mysteries #5
Paul Doiron
Minotaur Books, July 2014
ISBN:  978-1-250-03488-5
Hardcover

With this, his fifth novel, Paul Doiron seems poised to join the few outstanding authors, headed IMHO by William Kent Krueger, who bring to vivid life the landscape, beauty and inhabitants (both the human and wildlife variety) of the northernmost parts of the United States, the states bordering Canada – – a lofty perch, to be sure. In this instance, that means Maine, ‘the most rural state in the country.’ The protagonist is Mike Bowditch, 27 years old and a former game warden [who in Maine have all the powers of state troopers], now working as a hunting and fishing guide in the North Woods. The book opens in a rainy month of May, when a tragedy has just taken place: Mike’s friend, Jimmy Gammon, scion of a powerful and politically connected family, not long after returning home from Afghanistan with horrific injuries, has been fatally shot in a “suicide by cop” scenario. To make matters worse, one of the two cops involved is Mike’s friend and mentor, Sgt. Kathy Frost.

In a state with the highest percentage of Afghanistan war vets in the nation, sympathies are decidedly against the cop, who says she acted in self-defense. When Mike goes to Kathy’s house to offer his support, he comes upon a scene where a sniper has shot Kathy as she exited her house, leaving her grievously wounded and clinging to life, and Mike himself is wounded when he interrupts the encounter. Mike, who has two such incidents in his past where he had no choice but to fire his weapon in self-defense with lethal results, is determined to track down the perpetrator.

Mike had served for 3 years as a game warden but had resigned his position two months earlier, a decision he second-guesses on nearly a daily basis.  His former colleagues are wary of trusting him now, making his investigation that much more difficult.  In a well-plotted tale, the author makes Mike a very human and conflicted protagonist, about whom the reader comes to feel great empathy.  I loved the writing, e.g., “I’d never believed that our destinies are predetermined.  If you look back on your life, you might see what looks like a meaningful progression, but it’s no different from gazing at the moon and seeing a man’s face.  Just because you perceive a pattern doesn’t mean it’s really there.”  The novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2015.

Book Reviews: One Shot by Lee Child, Lassiter by Paul Levine, Kill My Darling by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Boca Daze by Steven M. Forman, and Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

One Shot
Lee Child
Dell, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-345-53819-2
Premium Mass Market Paperback

As I am among those looking forward to the upcoming film simply called “Jack Reacher” [or not, in view of the controversy surrounding the fact that Tom Cruise will play the lead], I thought I’d go back to the book, initially published in 2005 and now with a new “Movie Tie-In Edition,” before seeing the film.  I tried to put everything that’s transpired in Jack Reacher’s life in the years since 2005 in the recesses of my mind to come at this book fresh [so to speak].

The novel jumps right in with a scene fraught with tension:  A person described only as “the man with the rifle” is putting into motion an obviously well-thought-out plan, in a scene that culminates with him using a rifle to kill five people, strangers all, each with one shot to the head, in a business area in the heartland south of Indianapolis, Indiana teeming with people leaving work into the heart of the rush hour, and then escapes scant minutes before all hell breaks loose.

Forensics give the police enough data to name a suspect, a 41-year-old US Army veteran, an infantry specialist [read “sniper”] who they quickly, in the early hours of the following morning, take into custody.  Ironically, a newly minted attorney who just happens to be the daughter of the District Attorney handling the case agrees to defend the accused man at the behest of his sister.  The man himself has refused to speak with anyone, prosecutors or defense attorney, other than to say “Get Jack Reacher for me.”  Enigmatic, to say the least, since their past encounter had been less than friendly.

Reacher himself is en route, having seen and read all about the massacre.  As the author describes it:  “Mostly he had rocked and swayed and dozed on buses, watching the passing scenes, observing the chaos of America . . . His life was like that.  It was a mosaic of fragments.  Details and contexts would fade and be inaccurately recalled, but the feelings and the experiences would weave over time into a tapestry equally full of good times and bad.”  And as we all now know, Reacher is an imposing man, in mind and body, and doesn’t let anything stop him when on a mission, having been honorably discharged seven years ago as a major in the army, and for fourteen years an MP.   (He’s also a man who knows every stat about every professional baseball player who ever played for the NY Yankees.)  And to steal a line from an old James Bond movie, nobody does it better.

The same could be said for Lee Child.  Ingeniously plotted, wonderfully well-written, terrifically entertaining, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lassiter
Paul Levine
Bantam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-553-80674-8
Hardcover

Lassiter is prefaced with a quote from Lenny Bruce:  “In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.”  A very realistic assessment of the US legal profession and justice system, one which comes alive in the ensuing pages.  The newest novel from Paul Levine moves along in a very entertaining manner, until suddenly it evolves into something much tighter and delivers a dramatic courtroom scene a la Perry Mason or, more contemporaneously, Law & Order.  Which I really should have expected from this author, having read many of his thirteen previous books and enjoyed them all.  Presented with wry humor and a very likeable – well, perhaps I should say ‘sympathetic’ – protagonist, and with nary a[n explicit] lawyer joke included!

The past of Jake Lassiter, Mr. Levine’s criminal attorney protagonist, self-styled ‘follower of his own rules,’ who refers to his clients as ‘customers,’ comes back to haunt him on the day he is hired by a lovely woman who introduces herself as Amy Larkin, in jail in Miami on a charge of First Degree Murder, who swears her innocence.  He soon realizes that she is the sister of a teenage girl he had very briefly known [and with whom he was even more briefly intimate] nearly two decades earlier, who seems to have disappeared and is presumed dead. The man Amy is accused of killing had presumably been mistaken for her true target:  The man quite likely to have been the one responsible for her sister’s fate; a man who in those years was involved in the making of pornographic movies, among other even sleazier operations, and the last person Lassiter himself had seen her with before she disappeared.

Since that man has in the intervening years become quite a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, having been known to contribute quite heavily to the coffers of some prominent politicians and office-holders, proving him complicit in the earlier events will be quite a difficult task. Jake, who has himself evolved from the jock he had been [a linebacker with the Miami Dolphins, and whose dog is of course named Csonka], after which the night-school lawyer has become a somewhat successful criminal attorney with an office in South Beach and a strong sense of justice, no matter how that end must be achieved.  The ensuing investigation goes down many unexpected roads, to a stunning conclusion that left this reader riveted.  The book sort of sneaks up on you, until suddenly you’re hurtling through an incredible and thrilling tale with all the ingredients: a good mystery, funny dialogue and great characters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kill My Darling
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Severn House, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8137-3
Hardcover

In the newest [and very welcome] Bill Slider mystery, the Detective Inspector is presented with a missing persons report:  Melanie Hunter, a young woman who is a paleontologist at a prestigious Kensington museum, has not been seen in a day, and though that is normally not a matter for the police at that early stage, there is a hint of Sherlock Holmes in the fact that her dog, usually a very quiet animal, has been left alone in her apartment and has been barking a lot.  When her downstairs neighbor lets himself into the apartment with the key he had been provided for just such purpose, he takes the dog back with him and reports the incident to the police.  The worst fears are realized in short order when the woman’s dead body is discovered.

Suspicion first falls on that self-same neighbor, who is found to be a convicted murderer, though out of prison for several years.  Although everyone who knew Melanie says she was very friendly and loved by all, there are soon several serious suspects, and no real proof or evidence to narrow it down.  Slider, always a sensitive soul, finds the girl’s death haunting him.

Slider is a wonderful protagonist, and his colleagues in Shepherd’s Bush cop shop are delightful creations all, including D.S. Porson, king of the malapropisms and mixed metaphors, described variously as having “the looks and charm of a bunion,” wearing a “greatcoat, the folds of which were so voluminous a Bedouin could have kept his entire family in there, and several of his favourite horses as well.”   The author’s trademark evocative descriptions of people and places are terrific as always; the writing throughout is wonderful in its humor and poignancy, and the mystery thoroughly satisfying, with a fascinating resolution that is truly unexpected – – though all the clues are there.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Boca Daze
Steven M. Forman
Forge, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2876-2
Hardcover

Eddie Perlmutter, a 61-year-old p.i. in Boca Raton, FL, is still a crusader who cannot, it seems, help himself:  He has to save whatever otherwise lost causes present themselves, from homeless people living on the streets, beaches or wherever else, to the endangered sea turtles with nests on the shores. A former Boston cop who, as he says, was that city’s “most decorated and demoted policeman in my prime and best marksman on the force,” he retired to Boca three years ago. Widowed for many years, he is now living with his gorgeous [and much younger] Haitian-born girlfriend [whose own claim to fame includes cutting a man’s head off with a machete before leaving Haiti], still working with Louie Dewey, computer genius extraordinaire.  Eddie having been dubbed the Boca Knight, and attained not a small bit of celebrity, by a young newspaper reporter, following an anti-Nazi rally in Palm Beach, among other things, he runs the Boca Knights Detective Agency, with Louie’s invaluable assistance.

Louie is only one of many other quirky characters with equally quirky names, e.g., “Three Bag Bailey,” a homeless woman, and Liam Michael “Mad Mick” Murphy, a journalist from Key West.  Although brutal and violent in many spots, the book is filled with humor, as were the two earlier entries in this series.  He is obviously very fond of his adopted State.  Eddie mentions in one instance that “over a thousand endangered species live in South Florida.  The Early Bird is not one of them, and in another, when about to drive after sustaining a serious head injury, and asked if he is fit to drive, he responds “I’m in better condition than most drivers in Boca.”

Always a crusader and “a sucker for a good cause,” Eddie promises to look into an attack on a homeless man dubbed “Weary Willie” [after the sad-faced clown of many years ago] – – apparently the homeless problem in Florida just as bad as, if not worse than, any other part of the country – – and uncovers several other criminal activities along the way, including political corruption, and erstwhile pain clinics, really “pill mills,” apparently another blight in Florida, with millions of pills sold annually in strip malls and office parks by non-medical corporations.  But the worst crime uncovered is one reminiscent of the Bernie Madoff affair [with the latter even making a cameo appearance].

Don’t let the fact that Eddie is on speaking terms with a particular body part be off-putting; it’s really just another aspect of this very funny book with a wonderful protagonist who has a tendency toward random philosophical musings.  It is a terrific and fast read, and I look forward to the next book in the series.  Parenthetically, I loved the tip of the hat to the Mystery Bookstore in Pineapple Grove as well.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ghost Hero
S. J. Rozan
Minotaur, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00693-6
Trade Paperback

Lydia Chin, young New York private investigator, although she is what she refers to as an ABC [American-Born Chinese], cannot imagine why a new client wants to hire her for an investigation dealing with contemporary Chinese art [what he refers to as a “cutting edge collecting area” in the West], freely admitting that she has no clue about art.  Despite her reluctance, she agrees to accept his retainer to check out rumors of some new pieces of art by one Chau Chun, known as the Ghost Hero.  This despite the fact that Chau is believed to have died 20 years ago in the uprising at Tienanmen Square.

This particular artist’s work was known to contain “hidden” political symbols, and the putative new work contains current political references. There is a suspicion, then, that the work is contemporary, not created over two decades earlier.  But the potential value of the Ghost Hero’s “ghost paintings” is enormous, since in the past his work was worth half a million dollars, give or take.

As always with work by this author, there is a full quotient of clever, witty dialogue from clever, witty people – well, a few people in particular: Lydia; her cousin, Linus, tech geek [read “hacker”] extraordinaire; Bill Smith, a mid-fifties white guy [referred to by Lydia’s disapproving mother as the “white baboon” – can you tell she doesn’t like him?], also a p.i. and over the past few years Lydia’s partner; and Jack Lee, a  2d generation ABC from the suburban Midwest and art expert as well as a p.i., in this case having also been hired [by an unnamed client] to investigate the possibility of the existence of the self-same paintings.  The stakes are raised when the investigation sparks the interest of the wrong people, and bullets and threats start to fly.

Parenthetically, I have to admit to some small confusion on my part keeping the Asian names straight, but ultimately that is of small moment, as in the end the author makes everything clear.  Brilliantly plotted, and with protagonists the reader cares about and roots for, the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2012.