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The Ax

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,051 ratings  ·  114 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

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
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
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
Apr 09, 2014 Veeral rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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?


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
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
First-line-fever: I've never actually killed anybody before, murdered another person, snuffed out another human being.
Tanja Berg
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Mar 08, 2014 Spiros rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone wondering how a reconstructed "Death of a Salesman" might read
Like Michael Bluth, Burke Devore is a good man. He loves his wife and two children, and has provided a comfortable, suburban middle-class life for them. Then, in one of Corporate America's spasms of downsizing, he loses his management position at his paper company, and before you can say "David Brent" Burke finds himself among the ranks of the permanently under-employed. The solution to his problems is both entirely rational, and entirely harrowing.
Westlake, in this narrative of an inverted Will
Yes, like so many of the other reviewers have said before, the entire plot was rather disturbing. I mean murder for gain? Even the non-religious and anarchists don’t condone that. But, not because the passages recounting the murders were so brutal and descriptive that it kept me awake at night. And, not because violence is as integral to each chapter as blood and gore to a George Romero film. What sticks in my mind is how easily the ‘protagonist’ arrived at murder as the answer to his problems, ...more
When I say I completed this one.. I mean I quit. It was just too dark and depressing for me.
Jann Swanson
Rediscovered Treasure

Rediscovered Treasure

In the seventies, eighties, and early nineties I read everything Westlake wrote. Apparently I have been goofing off as a reader but he has been busy as a writer and he hasn't lost his touch.

This book, written after one recession and wave of soul-sucking layoffs is perfect to read in the wake of another. Westlake's "hero" gives new meaning to the words job hunt. It's a take that only this author could come up with.

Donald Westlake is an evil genius.
Lynette Barfield
this is definitely a different plot. I loved it.
Oh! This book was awful, but well done. It reminded me of "Death of a Salesman." Very depressing, but once I got into it a bit I just had to finish to see what actually happened at the end.
This guy, over 50, lost his job 2 years "ago." He's at a point where he just has to take control, and get a job. So, he takes out a PO Box, and sends out an ad about a position that is "open" - to draw out people who have the same skills as he does (in the paper [making:] industry). (Previous to this he had
Larry Buhl
I'm a newcomer to Westlake. Apparently he was a prolific writer of mysteries/thrillers. This is a departure, less thriller, more pitch black comedy. It's not so much that the situations are comedic. They're not. But the narrator's rationalizations to justify killing potential competitors for a middle management job, that's where the humor comes in. But still, not laugh out loud funny. More like head nodding. It's a wonder why more middle aged, middle class, squeezed out middle managers haven't t ...more
It seems like other writers could have delivered the central plot: 7 must die, so that my family can live again. But since we have Donald Westlake writing our way, we get much more than we can expect from a pulpy thriller.

When you are an avid reader [perhaps even a chain reader who starts reading the next book even as the ashes of the last one are still cooling down], books also take on the flavors of the other recent books that you read. The anti-hero's journey that Burke takes was crisper not
Well that was pretty disturbing. The Ax by Donald Westlake is a book no one who has been laid off during our current recession should read, it will give them too many ideas. I was recommended this book by a friend, and author, and normally I don't read crime fiction, but I was intrigued enough with the premise to give it a try - a guy who loses his job then in order to secure himself another job, he kills off his competition. Even though this book wasn't humorous, I still saw the dark irony in i ...more
The Ax is an enjoyable, sly, black comedy about unemployment and the extremes one man will go to get his dream job and get his life back on track. Burke Devore had risen to middle management in a paper company and, after 25 years, was "downsized." After being out of work for two years he comes up with a plan to winnow out some of the competition by murdering them. It's only logical, after Burke ponders his inability to land another middle management job. I figure that Burke and I are about the s ...more
Westlake's book, The Ax, is not an easy read...yet it only took me about three days to finish. It follows around Burke Devore as he tries to kill of his competitors for a job since they have all been layed off. I have never disliked a main character so much in a novel before. Throughout the book, my only hope for him was for his life to end horribly. Yet, with all this dislike for the central character, I still really enjoyed the book. As awful as Devore is, he is the type of villain that is lov ...more
Aaron Martz
A very effective and timely thriller dealing with the downsizing of America, the shrinking middle class, and one man's desperate, though thoroughly-thought out, acts of homicide in order to get himself back on top. Westlake has a sure hand with establishing characters, and you feel immediate sympathy for the protagonist, Burke Devore, even though he kills an innocent man in the first chapter, and continues to kill people throughout the book. Devore's sense of having been betrayed by his company, ...more
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
Being laid off is a traumatic event in life. Burke Devore held a very specialized job for 16 years and after two years of unemployment he concluded that the best way to get a job, for which he was qualified, was to get rid of his competition. Thus was born a serial killer. Committing murder is, no doubt, more traumatic that being downsized. Westlake puts it all together in an entertaining way.
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Favorite Donald E. Westlake Books 1 4 Sep 26, 2014 11:49PM  
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  • Why Sinatra Matters
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  • Right to Life (Cemetery Dance Novella Series, #4)
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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
More about Donald E. Westlake...
The Hot Rock (Dortmunder, #1) Bank Shot (Dortmunder, #2) What's The Worst That Could Happen? (Dortmunder, #9) What's So Funny? (Dortmunder, #14) Drowned Hopes (Dortmunder, #7)

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