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The Ax

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,307 Ratings  ·  131 Reviews
For 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 out ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 1st 1998 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,315)
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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 28, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it
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
Mar 19, 2010 Kemper rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 07, 2013 Bill rated it it was amazing
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]
Nov 11, 2012 Ed [Redacted] rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 09, 2014 Veeral rated it it was amazing
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 12, 2014 Cathy DuPont rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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?


Jan 03, 2011 David rated it really liked it
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
Sep 15, 2015 Charles rated it it was amazing
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.
Tanja Berg
Jan 20, 2013 Tanja Berg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 28, 2010 Monique rated it really liked it
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
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
Jul 18, 2015 Still rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Roger Pettit
Aug 26, 2014 Roger Pettit rated it liked it
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.
Quentin Feduchin
Aug 14, 2013 Quentin Feduchin rated it really liked it
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
Apr 06, 2009 Marguerite rated it really liked it
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
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
Nov 23, 2014 Moudry rated it really liked it
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.
Lukasz Pruski
Apr 18, 2015 Lukasz Pruski rated it liked it
The following is taken from last December news: "Profits fall 39%, 11,000 jobs cut, [...] bringing the firm's layoffs to 20,000 employees." My comment: The cuts are needed to ensure that all executives get new private planes as Christmas bonuses. The 20,000 former employees will get a chance to enroll in a retraining program as their Christmas bonuses. Donald Westlake's "The Ax" is about middle-class resentment of corporate downsizing, about a hard-working man's anger at the fat cat executives a ...more
It's a book about losing a job and crossing the legal line, from the weird point of view of a desperate and normal man. It's too a good thriller, unusual and entertaining.

He worked for years and years and, one day, his company didn't want him anymore. Of course, there are less jobs than people, so it's not easy to find a new work. Time passes, money problems start to say hello, he becomes desperate. Burke decides to do something to help himself to find a work. Like killing the other applicants.
Mar 29, 2008 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 09, 2009 Randy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Curt Buchmeier
Jan 06, 2015 Curt Buchmeier rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book in the mystery section of the library. Picked it up because I remembered I had it on my to read list, didn't know a thing about it. Once I started, I was hooked. This is no mystery in the typical sense. Why this book doesn't receive more praise & recognition is a mystery. But then, it is Westlake; one of the best writers ever. This novel is about as close to perfect as I believe possible. Truly an incredible read. Premise; believability; dialogue; pacing; it's all ju ...more
Sep 17, 2014 Bagman rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 23, 2008 David rated it did not like it
Shelves: completed
When I say I completed this one.. I mean I quit. It was just too dark and depressing for me.
Jann Swanson
Jul 14, 2014 Jann Swanson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 20, 2013 Lynette Barfield rated it it was amazing
this is definitely a different plot. I loved it.
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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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