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The Ax [Hardcover]

Donald E. Westlake
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 Nov 1999
Burke Devore, the manager of a paper company for 25 years, is a devoted family man who always plays by the rules. When he loses his job, Devore''s life begins to slip away. He knows he must be ruthless to get another job and he will stop at nothing.'

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd; New edition edition (30 Nov 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0709064853
  • ISBN-13: 978-0709064855
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,455,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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I've never actually killed anybody before, murdered another person, snuffed out another human being. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A MODERN DAY MORALITY TALE... 26 May 2003
By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
An excellent departure for Westlake, who returns to the horror of The Stepfather, a movie he scripted. Though the central character, Burke Devore, is over the edge, you can't help sympathizing with him, and rooting for him as he bumps off his rivals. I agree with other reviewers that there were too many people on Devore's hit list, but Westlake never repeats himself; each of the killings spin off into a fresh surprise. The murders are graphic and unsettling, as they are even for Devore; the book is not for the squeamish. Westlake brings a twisted sense of humor to this grisly affair, not the lighthearted touch he's known for in the Dortmunder novels, but I found myself laughing several times. The Ax is also a very serious book about corporate greed and the whole "downsizing" phenomenon; anyone who's ever been handed a pink slip will identify with Devore's anger, bitterness, and desperation. I loved The Ax and hope Westlake has time (between his Dortmunder and Parker novels) to write more books in this vein.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A MODERN DAY MORALITY TALE... 20 Jan 2003
By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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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Was this review helpful to you?
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Westlake at his best 19 Jan 2000
Format:Hardcover
His company was "downsized". He lost his job. The only way to get it back is to kill all his competitors. A wonderful picture of the thoughts of an intelligent human in trouble.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  111 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully dark! 5 April 2000
By Sean Kelly - Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A MODERN DAY MORALITY TALE... 4 Aug 2001
By Lawyeraau - Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling In Its Realism 21 Aug 2001
By Untouchable - Published on Amazon.com
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gives New Meaning to the Phrase "Eliminates the Competition" 5 Oct 2000
By George Dellagiarino - Published on Amazon.com
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 Amazon.com 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. Yet, no one sees anything. Still, this book has a certain quality, if that is the right word, where we find ourselves rooting for this dark underdog and that, on its own, is reason enough to read "The Ax" and enjoy!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Harrowing 9 Aug 2000
By Lev Raphael - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
We've been deluged in recent years by books and movies about serial killers that make various attempts to explain their horrific crimes. The causes often lie on terrible childhood abuse. But what if someone committed a series of murders because he was desperate for a job?
That's right, Burke Devore in Donald Westlake's chilling and suspenseful new novel becomes a killer because he's out of a job. A middle manager for years at a paper mill, he's been downsized, and as his insurance and unemployment run out, he and his family sink into increasing fear and despair. His wife works two lousy part-time jobs, his son takes to burglary and is arrested. And Burton just can't get hired in his field.
It wasn't supposed to be like that. After all, as he puts it so trenchantly, he's middle class, and so, unlike the poor or the very rich, isn't used "to the idea that life has great swings" of fortune. Instead, "the middle class is used to a smooth progress through life." If you give up the highs, you're supposed to be protected from the lows.
Like your company dumping you after years of loyal and productive service--and then offering to retrain you as an air conditioning repairman. Now, who'd bother hiring a man over 50 with a few months of training over someone younger who really wanted to do that job?
Fully aware of the surplus of middle managers in his own field, and with more of them "chasing fewer and fewer jobs," Devore craftily finds out who his toughest competition is. And after narrowing the list down to those in his New England region or New York, sets out to kill each one so that the next time a plum job comes up in his area, he'll go to the top of the list.
It's an audacious, brutal, and crazy scheme, and Westlake's great gift is drawing you into the domestic and professional tragedy of Devore's life so well that you become weirdly complicit in his quiet rage. You don't want Devore to kill anyone, yet you don't want him to get caught by the police. This disturbing tension propels the book forward over the few gaps. While Devore's relationship with his wife is fully realized, his connection with his two children is less so. And in the brief moments when the tension lets up in this harrowing novel, you may wonder a little about Devore's past.
Downsizing, as Devore points out, has to be one of the stupidest business ideas in this century: "trashing productive people from productive careers in productive companies." Taut and creepy, THE AX brings newspaper headlines about downsizing to life in a way only as richly experienced a writer as Donald Westlake can do. It's no surprise, then, that in 1993, the Mystery Writers of America named this author of 40 books a Grand Master.
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