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The Ax Hardcover – June 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

Donald E. Westlake, justly named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, has written everything from comic capers (the Dortmunder series) to the darker adventures of ace criminal Parker during his long career. But he's never come up with anything scarier or more timely than this story about a downsized executive who decides to kill off the competition. Burke Devore could be your neighbor: a laid-off paper company manager watching his life and family fall apart as he tries desperately to get a job. The plan he finally comes up with involves murdering seven men very much like himself, and Westlake's most impressive achievement is to make the serial killings understandable if in no way justified. Selected titles from Westlake's vast list of books available in paperback include: Baby, Would I Lie?, The Fugitive Pigeon, Pity Him Afterwards, and Trust Me on This.

From Library Journal

Burke Devore, 52, laid off from his middle-management position at a paper mill two years before, decides to eliminate competitors for a dream job at a mill in New York. He places dummy ads in trade journals to attract them, then stalks and kills them (at first with a pistol, later in a variety of disgusting ways?most in broad daylight, with no witnesses). That's about all there is to this strange novel from the author of the John Dortmunder mystery series, e.g., What's the Worst That Could Happen? (LJ 9/15/96). A potentially compelling look at the effects of long-term unemployment on the psyche of a man of limited prospects and intellect, the result is merely a step-by-step guide to executing innocent people, generally lacking in conflict, irony, and farcical elements. Devore's wife and children are sketchy, and humorous situations are underdeveloped. The point of all this is buried deep. Not recommended.?Laurel A. Wilson, Alexandrian P.L., Mount Vernon, Ind.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press (June 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0754030954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892965878
  • ASIN: 0892965878
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #411,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

You might think the book ends there.
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I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good dark comedy-thriller.
Christy Holland
By far and large it is one of the best crime novels I have ever read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Sean Kelly on April 5, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Westlake's ingenious plot of a downsized executive's attempts to reenter the industry is underscored with the macabre. The protagonist, Burke Devore, makes a dalliance with death, as he literally kills of the competition for a position in industrial paper sales.
Westlake's novel couldn't be more disturbingly apropos, with hundreds of organizations laying off thousands of workers. His everyman protagonist struggles to find a job, but realizes, after collecting his competitors' resumes through a bogus help-wanted ad, that he doesn't have what it takes professionally. The reader can't help but be moved by his strife, and that's when the twist comes in. Devore decides to kill the top seven competitors, and he has all he needs: names and home addresses from the resumes.
Westlake maintains the everyman in Devore as he becomes a murderer. His character is sickened by the first killing, but gains confidence with each murder. Occasional comic mishaps and brushes with law enforcement caused me to turn each page with giddy anticipation, both anxious and afraid to see if Devore would succeed or be caught.
Westlake's writing is direct and clear, and his ending dovetails nicely with the rest of the novel. It's a short one, yet enjoyable, even if you're not into dark comedy.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 4, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
What do you do when you are over fifty years old, and the company for which you have worked for nearly a quarter of a century is downsizing and gives you the ax? One would think that you would simply get another job. Wrong! In this era of corporate downsizing and fierce competition, that may be easier said than done. Ask Burke Devore.
Burke Devore, unemployed now for nearly two years, would like nothing better than to get a job commensurate with his experience as a product manager for a paper mill corporation, but as I said, competition is fierce. Desperate in his quest for the american dream that seems to have turned into a nightmare from which he cannot wake, his middle class life is spiraling out of control. He must regain control by whatever means necessary. Burke Devore, thinking out of the box, simply decides to eliminate the competition...literally. Our erstwhile serial killer is mad as hell, and he isn't going to take it anymore.
This darkly satirical and provocative novel is a veritable page turner. Moreover, there is an underlying social commentary that permeates the plot, which serves to make the reader complicit with the protagonist, as he moves forward with his deadly agenda. Well written and original in concept, it makes for a book well worth reading, especially by those who enjoy mysteries and novels of suspense.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Untouchable on August 20, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
When Burke Devore loses his job, he finds it difficult for a 50-year-old to get another in the competitive market out there. He needs a job in his line of expertise, but realises that there are many people in his same predicament. His solution is to narrow the odds in his favour by eliminating the competition, literally. He places an ad in a trade magazine in order to collect resumes of people in a similar situation to him. Then, anyone he decides has better qualifications than his is marked for elimination.
This chilling story describes the desperation that drives an apparently normal middle-aged man with a wife and grown children to embark on a killing spree. We're taken along for the ride as he tries to justify to himself the need for these murders to take place, his agony of guilt after each one, but then, frighteningly, his ability to overcome the guilt before planning the next one. Indeed, he begins to pride himself on picking up a new skill! As Burke goes from one victim to another, he depersonalises what he is doing by using his victim's initials when referring to them rather than their names.
Although this is fiction, it seems an altogether likely scenario of the thought patterns of the real-life serial killers, and the unbelievable justifications for their murders. This is a frightening story in the absolute cold-bloodedness of the murders by a man who, in all outward appearances, comes across as a very gentle man.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By George Dellagiarino on October 5, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Donald Westlake writes straight from the heart. Only "the Ax" is from the darker rivers of the heart. Anyone who has ever been "downsized" or stood on an unemployment line can relate to the feelings of one Burke Devore, a downsized project manager at a paper mill plant, who, by placing a phony ad in a trade journal, acquires all the resumes of those potential competitors who might apply for the same job as him. He simply "eliminates the competition". We might all think about it in our darker fantasies, but Burke goes ahead and does it.
I read this book because it was constantly referenced in the reviews of another Westlake book ("The Hook"). Both books have similarities and differences that abound. The secondary charcters are stronger in "The Hook" than here. We really don't dwell all that much on Burke's wife and even less so on his kids. Yet, like in "The Hook", there is a sense of desperation on the part of the main characters. In both cases, the action is fast paced and we find ourselves hungrily turning the pages.
So, why not 5 stars? A couple of reasons: When Burke's son is brought up on charges of breaking into a software store and the police search his house, they come across the resumes he has collected. The police are already investigating a few of the deaths by this time, yet they fail to make the connection. I wanted to shake Detective Burton because he can't seem to put 2+2 together. He ends up, like the detective in "The Hook", as being almost a wasted character. Some of the murders committed by Burke are committed in a public venue, especially the first one where he shoots a man at his own mailbox and one of the later ones where a person is bludegeoned to death in a parking lot.
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