The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
I enjoyed this 1979 Newbery-Medal-winner when I was a child, and I enjoyed it again as an adult--when it arrived in a boxful
of good books sent by a friend as a surprised gift. Its author styled it a puzzle-mystery. It certainly is: fast-paced,
full of humor and frank observation of a variety of characters, a touch of pathos, and the sort of complexity that causes
words like madcap to be coined, it satisfies you whether you want to be puzzled, kidded, moved, or simply told a neat
The Westing Game begins with Sam Westing, a paper-products magnate who went into seclusion after his daughter drowned
herself, his wife left him, and a car accident left him permanently disfigured. In the new apartment building next door to
his mansion, a group of people seemingly with nothing in common are gathered by a wily real estate agent. And when Westings
dead body is found on Halloween Night, the people in the building--even the ones who only work there--are named as
beneficiaries in his will. With two hundred million at stake, thats quite a lucky break for sixteen perfect strangers!
The catch is, the will is more of a contest than a give-away. Westing claims (in his last will and testament) that his life
was ended by one of his sixteen heirs, and he promises to give his fortune to whoever solves the mystery. Whats more, he
divides them into teams, supplies them with cash and very enigmatic clues, and lets them work on the mystery until, at some
set date, his lawyer calls them together to find out who wins.
The result is something between the ultimate party mixer and a brew of suspicions. Whodunit, anyway? Was it the flippant
foot-doctor or his uppity wife, their Barbie-doll older daughter, or their shin-kicking horror of a younger daughter? Was it
the aspiring-writer son of the Greek café owners, or his crippled bird-watching brother? Maybe the secretary who uses
crutches to get attention; or the dressmaker whose smile hides a deep sadness from her past; or the frustrated Chinese
restauranteur who really wants to be an inventor--while his wife wants to go back to China and his son wants to run in the
Olympics. Dont forget the fanatically religious housekeeper; the obnoxious, elderly delivery-boy; the know-it-all plastic
surgeon; and the hard-drinking doorman who holds a grudge against old Mr. Westing.
All this with weird clues on top, and you have quite a mystery already. Throw in a blizzard, a bookie, a burglar, and a
bomber, some devious twists and red herrings, and the marvelous way the partners in the game change each others' lives, and
you have more than just a puzzle-mystery. You have a story about how a bunch of unhappy, misfit people find a place that
fits--together. This is good. This is very good.
Recommended Age: 10+
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