THE AX by Donald E. Westlake


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 A downsized line manager plots a murderous way to winnow the competition for his next job, in this unusually somber tale from the reigning king of crime comedy. Though he saw the co-workers dismissed along with him turn instantly from teammates to competitors, Burke Devore knew from the first that they weren't the cause of his misery; the real enemy was the bosses, the board of directors, the shareholders willing to do anything to squeeze every ounce of profit from the paper company that's laid him off. But there's nothing he can do about the enemy, he ruefully acknowledges after two years of anguish; the only way he can claw his way back to a job is to create a vacancy through homicide--having first identified and eliminated the half-dozen most likely fellow-managers he'll be competing with. So he prepares a list of the best-qualified people close enough to his Connecticut home to be realistic competitors; practices firing his ancient Luger; and sets out on a purposeful odyssey to eliminate them. Westlake, the unrivaled master of the formula caper comedy (What's the Worst That Could Happen?, 1996, etc.), rises effortlessly to the challenge of varying these executions, keeping up the tension--even though you know (or think you know) exactly what's going to happen every time--by interspersing them with vignettes of Devore's quietly ruined home life, as his wife, who's obviously taken up with another man, drags him to counseling and his teenaged son is picked up for burglary. What's missing is any sense of cumulative horror or revulsion as Devore, doggedly distancing himself from his targets by reviewing their resumÇs and thinking of them by their initials, methodically works to make his next job opportunity happen. Though this lack of affect--especially in the chilly epilogue--is presumably Westlake's point, it sadly limits the range and psychological penetration of this grim `90s update of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Pub Date: June 20th, 1997
ISBN: 0-89296-587-8
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1997


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