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The Ax [Mass Market Paperback]

Donald E. Westlake
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1 1998
Fro 25 years, Burke Devore has provided for his family and played by the rules. Until now. Downsized from his job, Devore is slipping away: from his wife, his family, and from all civilized norms of behavior. He wants his life back, and will do anything to get it. In this relentlessly fascinating novel, the masterful Westlake takes readers on a journey of obsession and outrage inside a quiet man's desperate world.

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Product Description

From Amazon

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, bizarre and disturbing May 16 2004
By jsdunk
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I'm a big fan of Donald Westlake. I love his comic crime novels where I find myself rooting for the slightly inept bad guys to get away with their crimes. When I decided to read The Ax, it never ocurred to me that I'd end up rooting for Burke Devore to get away with multiple murders.
This is a book about one man, written entirely in the first person. A man who believes he can rely on no one but himself. In that vein all the other characers are merely shadows, or stick figures. They exist only through Burke's eyes. He IS the book.
Burke is a former production line manager in a paper mill who was laid off in the mid-nineties and has been unemployed for two years at the time of the novel (1997). He is at end of his rope -- his unemployment has run out and so, it seems, have his job prospects.
Burke decides to take matters into his own hands. He places an ad in a trade journal to evaluate the competition. Then, he decides to just get rid of them. He selects the job that he wants and then he kills off the competition AND the incumbent.
Burke goes on a killing spree through New York, Conn., and Mass. He kills the competition in broad daylight by the side of the road and in a crowded parking lot. He kills in a deserted mall parking lot and he even blows up a house.
The fact that Burke gets away with all these murders is completely implausable. The fact that the cops don't catch him and that he even manages to get rid of the evidence of his son's (unrelated) breaking and entering is unlikely. The fact that the search of the house that follows his son's crime raises no questions in the minds of the police is ridiculous. But it doesn't really matter. The fact that it is so unlikely that he'll get away with it all makes us identify with Burke all the more.
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Format:Mass Market Paperback
Donald Westlake's THE AX is not the kind of novel I usually read. I picked it up second-hand because I've heard horror fans rave about its dark and chilling narrative. Burke Devore, a middle-aged, middle-class, middle management family man has been downsized out of his position in an East Coast paper mill. Months of unemployment lead him to devise the horrifying plan of quite literally eliminating the competition, murdering those, like him, who have been laid off and might apply for his coveted dream job. A strain of dark and surprising humor runs throughout Westlake's narrative. This humor is apparent in the bland similarities of the resumés collected by Burke as he targets his victims, in the increasingly grisly nature of the murders he commits as he travels through Connecticut and Massachusetts and New York, in his insightful commentary and observations as he stalks his prey. "We were fired," Burke ruminates of himself and his fellow job seekers, "because the computer made us unnecessary and made mergers possible and our absence makes the company even stronger, and the dividends even larger, the return on investment even more generous." Were he not bent on his murderous solution to unemployment, Burke Devore might have proved a trenchant critic of America's new economy. Burke makes for an engaging narrator, seducing the reader with his stark and unsettling logic. How many of today's unemployed must feel the kind of betrayed promise Burke does when he writes, "We were supposed to be protected and safe, here in the middle, and something's gone wrong." What makes THE AX so chilling is exactly what makes it so plausible.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling In Its Realism Aug. 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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4.0 out of 5 stars A MODERN DAY MORALITY TALE... Aug. 4 2001
By Lawyeraau TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
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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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars A character I couldn't stand
This was an absolutely *appalling* tale about a man in 1997 in Connecticut who lost his job a couple of years previously and can't get another one because there's always someone... Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2007 by Nicole Chardenet
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic, do not miss
Westlake creates great suspense through one of the creepiest narratives ever written. Great structure and a justfied ending give this book some real punch. Read more
Published on May 16 2004 by Maxwell Mattord
5.0 out of 5 stars Creative and unexpected!
I really enjoyed this book! It's unlike anything I've ever read before. I found it intruiging to hear the story as though I was in the mind of this killer. Read more
Published on May 12 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Read This if You Have a Few Hours to Kill!
Burke Devore was a paper company manager for twenty-five years until the day he loses his job through corporate downsizing. Read more
Published on Oct. 10 2003 by James N Simpson
4.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner
The Ax is the kind of book that you could read in a single setting. It is not especially long(at just under 300 pages) and is written in an engaging first-person narrative. Read more
Published on May 23 2003 by Matthew King
2.0 out of 5 stars Well Written but Disgusting
I actually read this book. Now that I'm done, I really don't want to admit that, but the writing was too good to put it down, even though I grew to thoroughly hate the lead... Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2003 by Anna Klein
5.0 out of 5 stars a masterpiece
Having read hundreds of crime novels and thrillers over the years, I've become pretty jaded, yet this book blew me away. Read more
Published on Dec 6 2002 by David Group
5.0 out of 5 stars More thought provoking than I ever imagined
The premise of this books seems so bizzare that one could never find it plausible. However placed in the context of the reality of life we see played out each day (flying planes... Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2002 by D. C Washington
5.0 out of 5 stars Twisted
The Ax is the story of Burke Devore, a middle manager, recently laid off from his job where he worked for over 20 years. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2002 by Elizabeth Hendry
4.0 out of 5 stars What would you do to get a job?
It's a lot easier to empathize with the protagonist of this story if you've had trouble finding work. Read more
Published on May 19 2002 by LanPB01
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