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The Ax

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  1,463 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
The multi-award-winning, widely-acclaimed mystery master Donald E. Westlake delivers a masterpiece with this brilliant, laser-sharp tale of the deadly consequences of corporate downsizing.

Burke Devore is a middle-aged manager at a paper company when the cost-cutting ax falls, and he is laid off. Eighteen months later and still unemployed, he puts a new spin on his job sear
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published June 1st 1997 by New York: Mysterious Press (first published 1997)
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Dan Schwent
Burke Devore, line manager at a paper mill, gets laid off and is unemployed for two years. Then one day he gets the idea of a lifetime: start killing the people he's competing for job with...

Wow. This thing is a damn masterpiece. Westlake takes an ordinary Joe in a situation we can all relate to in these uncertain economic times, and sends him on a killing spree. What separates Burke Devore from other killers on the paperback racks is that he's almost just like us.

The way Westlake tells the sto
Richard Vialet
The Ax starts strong with a great plot that is irresistible and tailor-made for a modern noir tale. Burke Devore has been laid off from his job as a manager at a paper manufacturer and has been jobless for two years. In a desperate attempt to land a job, he gathers together resumes of men that could be seen as his competition, and proceeds to take the steps that would guarantee his resume would be at the top of the pile: killing his competition one by one.
"What it comes down to is, the CEOs,
Feb 21, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-fiction

My dad told me a story about something he used to do. Back in the dark ages, when people didn't use the internet they relied on other means for doing things that we now do with just a few keystrokes.

For example, if you're in the construction industry today, and you are a salesman you can log on to a website and see all the projects that are being worked on, being bid on and use that website to place your own bid to do work.

Back then they had clunky big blue books that served this purpose.

I'm n
Wanted: Middle management for the oversight of an assembly line in an industrial paper factory. College degree and experience a must. Homicidal maniacs welcome to apply.

Burke Devore was a typical middle-aged guy with a steady job, a wife and two college aged kids. However, when he gets laid off, he spends two years looking for new employment and realizes that there are far too many people with more education and experience looking for similar work.

After Burke reads an article in a trade journal
Sep 08, 2012 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
About 20% of the way through this one, I wasn't sure it was going to be so great. It's written in the 1st person, and with a fun concept: a 51 year old man who has been unemployed for 2 years decides to start killing off the competition for a job he wants.
The reason I was losing my enthusiasm early on was that it seemed the novel was becoming redundant. Well, that changed about a third of the way in. I got hooked big time.

Like the human train wrecks of A Simple Plan and The Big Picture, we ride
Ed [Redacted]
Sep 20, 2012 Ed [Redacted] rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, own
This book is about a dark time in American history. A large financial bubble had burst, corporations were laying off people in droves in a valiant effort to protect the lavish lifestyles of corporate leaders, jobs were hard to come by for the recently displaced and, as unemployment benefits started to run out, these displaced workers felt increasing, massive pressure to find a new job soon, or risk losing everything they have worked for their whole lives. So nothing like today *cough.

Anyway, it
Jan 08, 2013 Veeral rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Veeral by: Bill MacDonald
Bill MacDonald's review piqued my interest in this book. I was not even aware of Donald E. Westlake's works a few days back, so I thought this would be a good chance to change that.

And tell you what, I am already a fan!

The plot of this book is simple enough. A man in his early fifties gets laid off from his job and remains jobless for a couple of years due to severe competition. What to do? Remove the competition. Permanently, of course!

There was not even a single dull moment in the entire boo
Cathy DuPont
Jan 01, 2014 Cathy DuPont rated it it was amazing
The Ax? Well, forget about the one with the handle which you chop wood with.

Get this book. Read it. How, oh how, did Westlake come up with his idea for one of the best books I've read in six months?


Sep 11, 2015 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
A very entertaining book. To adequately describe it, I'd have to put in some plot spoilers and I don't want to do that. Suffice to say I found it a fascinating look at what downsizing might, under certain circumstances, do. Perfect ending as well. Gave me a big grin. Highly recommended.
Dec 31, 2010 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noirboiled
Donald E. Westlake updates the Gold Medal-Everyman formula for 1997. Not much has changed for honest, hardworking guys since the Frustrating Fifties: They still chase the American Dream like dogs chasing cars, and, when they can't stand the frustration any longer, they cross over to the noir side. Westlake's Everyman antihero is Burke Devore, a middle-manger in the paper industry who has been downsized out of his birthright to the middle class. Though Westlake's narrative is flabbier than your t ...more
Ha ha ha..this book was hilarious, not in the roll on the floor laughing way but kept a sly smile on my face by the sheer absurdity of the whole book..This book made me actually cheer and root for a serial killer, a crazy man who kills people and then goes home for dinner like nothing..This book is deranged and psychotic but oh so enjoyable I think there may be something wrong with me for liking it so much, this author is absolutely brillant and the only reason I didnt give it five stars is beca ...more
Tanja Berg
Jan 16, 2013 Tanja Berg rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller
To quote Louise Penny: "There is a killer in every village. In every home. In every heart. All anyone needs is the right reason". Burke Devore has reason - he has been down-sized from the paper company where he worked as a line manager. That was two years ago. Now he has his heart set on eliminating the competition. He puts a fake ad in the papers, receives lots of cv's, sorts them according to how "dangerous" they are and begins to cross them off. He wasn't a cold-blooded killer to start with, ...more
Loved this book. Now one of my all-time favorites. A brilliant noir that also includes in-character commentary on the layoff economy, which gives it a scope beyond the usual crime novel. Burke Devore has been out of work for two years after being laid off from his management job at a paper mill following a merger. As the novel begins he has decided to start taking out the competition - other men just like himself who are slightly more qualified than him for the jobs he is seeking. Seven men to k ...more
Feb 08, 2013 Still rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Donald E. Westlake fans
Recommended to Still by: I developed a yearning to read this after reading one of Westlake's essays in THE GETAWAY CAR.

Westlake just kills me!

I started reading this and was a little disappointed that it wasn't as fast-paced as other novels I've read by Donald E. Westlake.
Then around about page 27 it becomes a pretty gripping tale of a guy who is laid off from a nice, comfortable job he's had in management at a paper company for 25 years.

What would you do if you were fired from a position you'd held for 25 years?
Why you'd become a maniac!
Or at least that's exactly what Westlake's protagonist, Burke Devore, does.
First-line-fever: I've never actually killed anybody before, murdered another person, snuffed out another human being.
Feb 27, 2017 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Lately I've read a lot of think pieces about the decline of the working class, the quality-of-life diminishment in small town America, and the damage that decades of downsizing and outsourcing have done to the collective psyche of the American worker. (That is, explanations of how Trump happened.) None of them have been as sharp or as astute as this pulpy crime novel, which tells the story of a paper company manager who loses his job, suffers an irrecoverable blow to his masculinity, and sees vi ...more
Roger Pettit
I think Donald E Westlake is rather like Lawrence Block, whose novel 'Grifter's Game' I read recently. Until his death in 2008, Westlake, an American, was a consummate and prolific writer of crime novels and short stories. Yet I suspect his work is not as well-known as it deserves to be. That is such a shame. He is a writer of great variety and ingenuity. His novels about Parker, a ruthless hitman (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark), are very good. So, too, is his Burglar series of novel ...more
Quentin Feduchin
Having recently seen the film and having read several Donald E Westlake books, I became interested. I actually bought it a year ago; so I finally got around to it.
Westlake is a prolific writer, having written at least fifty books under his own name and the same again under pseudonyms. Some of his characters are cold blooded killer types; some are ridiculous inefficient criminals, really funny.
Maybe I haven't read enough of his, but this book seems unusual, almost a comment on the nineties as muc
Mar 01, 2009 Marguerite rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When are downsizing and unemployment funny? Well, they are in the hands of Donald Westlake, whose protagonist Burke Devore loses his job in the paper industry and loses the affections of his wife (at least temporarily) to another man. Burke would kill for a job -- literally. He sets out to eliminate his biggest employment rivals -- and regain the affections of his wife. Along the way, he skewers the parasites who feed on folks who've gotten the ax: employment counselors, feel-good retraining exp ...more
Dec 05, 2009 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A man makes a good living working in a specialized part of a small industry. After he's let off, he finds there aren't many opportunities for that sort of work -- and the opportunities that are available are quickly taken by the other people with his skill set, that are a little more experienced, educated, and better suited for the jobs. What does he do? Why, start to kill them off, of course.

This is a pretty short novel that I read in a few days. It tells the story well. I only wish it was long
Iris Lee
Jan 23, 2017 Iris Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book because a friend told me it is the subject for Park Chan-Wook next film. It was fun reading it, while sort of imagining what he might do to it in a film. Regardless of this tidbit, this is a well written thriller, that had me sort of guessing to the end. It sort of reminded me of the Dutch film "Vanishing" - in that it is a study of a psychopath killer who leads (what seems like) a perfectly normal life. It was interesting to see the world from the protagonist point of view ...more
Mar 29, 2008 Pamela rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who thinks mysteries aren't literary fiction
This book is a mystery, a satire, a documentary of what it's like to be downsized, a documentary about survival in America. Not since I read Lolita have I read a novel like this: It's told from the murderer's perspective and, also like Lolita (and Bellow's Seize the Day), Westlake's book details a love affair with America grown cold.

The Ax is superb. Even if you "don't like mysteries," give Westlake a shot.
Nov 11, 2014 Moudry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well done, with one glaring error: in the mpb (mass-market paperback) edition, pg. 243, an interview states:
"1970-1973 --U.S. Marine Corps, instructor, Fort Bragg"
which is wrong: Fort Bragg (North Caroline) is totally U.S. Army. The closest Marine training site would be Paris Island, SC.

Other than that, a well-done book.
Jan 07, 2009 Randy rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. Westlake's skill as a writer turns a character that is murdering the competition into a sympathetic person that one, against all odds, roots for to pull off his audacious scheme. I shook my head when I realized I was pulling for a serial killer.
Joe  Noir
Good, but sort of grim for Westlake.
Lynette Barfield
this is definitely a different plot. I loved it.
Apr 23, 2008 David rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: completed
When I say I completed this one.. I mean I quit. It was just too dark and depressing for me.
Summary Statement: With underwritten characters that go nowhere and a predictable storyline that doesn't go any further, Donald E. Westlake's crime thriller fails to captivate readers despite its intriguing premise.

"The Ax" by Donald E. Westlake is about a man named Burke Devore who recently worked in an executive position at a paper mill until he was let go due to budget cuts, and without a job he is worried his family (he, his wife, son and daughter) is going to go under. Desperately needing t
Jorn Barger
Jan 11, 2017 Jorn Barger rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
(Speedread) Why would anyone recommend this? A long long storytelling experiment with a loathsome narrator and a loathsome ending. Redeeming features? I guess the storytelling is skillful, if you aren't bothered by the story.
When Burke Devore finds himself on his way to three years without work, he decides he has to do something drastic. Because his field of expertise is relatively narrow, he knows there aren't that many people competing with him for jobs. But the competition is there, and he just doesn't have any more time. So working from the cutthroat logic of late-capitalism, he decides his competitors ought to get the ax, permanently.

A few thoughts:

- This book is really dark, with a sympathetic narrator who cr
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Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) was one of the most prolific and talented authors of American crime fiction. He began his career in the late 1950's, churning out novels for pulp houses—often writing as many as four novels a year under various pseudonyms such as Richard Stark—but soon began publishing under his own name. His most well-known characters were John Dortmunder, an unlucky thief, and a ru ...more
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