Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review: The Ax

When Donald Westlake passed away recently I had only read one of his stories, The Hunter, which was absolutely fantastic. Since that was written under his Richard Stark persona I went in search of a true Westlake stand alone. After reading numerous blogs dedicated to remembering Mr. Westlake I found his story The Ax was highly regarded by nearly everyone. So I ran out to my local library and scooped it up immediately.

Although it was written in 1997, the basic premise of the story is extremely relevant to our current economic climate. Burke Devore is a married, father of two trying to find another job in the paper manufacturing business after being laid off nearly two years ago. After becoming disillusioned with the resume/interview process, he devises a devious plan to improve his odds in locating a new job. He will kill those that he considers his competition. Then, he will kill the man who currently holds his dream job, giving himself the inside track.

I loved the premise of the story but I think the style with which it was told turned me off. I think it may have been too heavy on the first person internal dialogue for my tastes. I would estimate about 90% of the story is told from inside Devore's mind, which is probably fine for most people, but I found it boring to be honest. I'm usually a big fan of first person narration but I got tired of hearing his rationalization for each murder. I understand Mr. Westlake was trying to get the audience to empathize with Devore's state of mind but it just came off as self pity rather than empathy.

The other problem I had was the ending. I kept thinking the wife would be a major factor in the ending but instead she's left to a rather dull subplot. I was just waiting for some twist or something to turn what seemed like a straight forward story, upside down. That never happened and I was a little disappointed.

Now I'm sure that for those that have read The Ax, and loved it, I'm going to be burned at the stake. Maybe I don't have a refined eye for good writing yet. Maybe I haven't been in that situation and therefore couldn't connect with Devore. Maybe I wouldn't know great storytelling if it crawled up and bit me on my ass. Whatever the reason I just could not force myself to like the book. Let the flaming commence!


Scott Parker said...

I had a similar "What's the big deal?" review for Hammett's The Thin Man. But, for me, I had an out: the movies. Still don't think the book's that wonderful but the films are.

I've only read one Westlake novel, HCC's Somebody Owes Me Money, and it was fantastic. Never read a Stark yet. Think I'll try one of them next.


Cullen Gallagher said...

I just read Stark's THE JUGGER, which I reviewed on my blog. It's currently out of print, but a really good one if you can find it. The University of Chicago is now re-releasing the whole series, so you can't go wrong with THE HUNTER, the first book in the series.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There are just certain styles that appeal to some and not others. And if that "voice" didn't speak to you in a novel like this, it's tough going.

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