Full spoilers for the entire book below. Proceed with caution.
For other book reviews, click HERE:
Title: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Publication Date: May 1, 1978 (novel), 2017 (audio)
Publisher: E.P. Dutton (novel) Listening Library (audio)
Narrated By: Cassandra Campbell
Recording time: 6 hrs and 59 mins
Wealthy businessman Sam Westing dies. At the reading of his will, it is revealed that his named heirs are all tenants at the adjacent Sunset Towers apartment building. The will states that one of his heirs took Westing’s life. The will is structured like a puzzle, with the 16 heirs paired off and challenged to find the solution. The pair that solves the mystery of his death will inherit Westing’s entire $200,000,000 fortune and control of his company.
- Jake Wexler is a podiatrist, and a bookie on the side. He is married to Grace Wexler and is the father of Angela Wexler and Tabitha-Ruth Wexler.
- Madame Sun Lin Hoo is the second and much-younger Chinese immigrant wife of James Shin Hoo. She barely knows how to speak English. She can usually be found cooking in her husband’s restaurant.
- Tabitha-Ruth “Turtle” Wexler, is an intelligent 13-year-old girl. She is very protective of her long, dark braid of hair and anyone who touches it gets a kick to the shin.
- Flora Baumbach is a shy 60-year-old dressmaker who becomes a maternal figure to Turtle.
- Christos “Chris” Theodorakis is a 15-year-old boy who uses a wheelchair due to degenerative muscle disease. He is intelligent and enjoys birdwatching.
- Dr. Denton Deere is a medical intern, engaged to Angela. He has an obsession with diagnosing those he meets.
- Judge J.J. (Josie-Jo) Ford is an intelligent and serious African-American woman in her forties. She is suspicious of the game created by Sam Westing and believes that one of the heirs may be in danger.
- Alexander “Sandy” McSouthers is the doorman at the Sunset Towers Apartments.
- Grace Windsor Wexler, married to Jake Wexler and mother of Angela and Turtle.
- James Shin Hoo is a former entrepreneur, the owner of the Hoo’s restaurant chain, as well as Madame Hoo’s husband and Doug’s father.
- Berthe Erica Crow, usually referred to as simply Crow, is the cleaning woman for Sunset Towers. She is extremely religious and also operates a downtown soup kitchen.
- Otis Amber is a 62 year-old “delivery boy.” He assists Crow with her soup kitchen.
- Theo Theodorakis is a smart high school student, and very loyal to his family. He is protective of his brother Chris and works hard in his parents’ coffee shop. He is interested in becoming a writer, and also becomes friends with his partner, Doug Hoo.
- Doug Hoo, son of James Shin Hoo, is a high school track star, one of the best mile-runners in the state. Running is his passion, but his father often criticizes him for not studying enough. He is a prankster and develops a rivalry with Turtle Wexler.
- Angela Wexler is a beautiful 20-year-old girl: fair, blonde, and very pretty. She is considered the ‘perfect’ daughter, often getting more attention than her sister Turtle.
- Sydelle Pulaski is a mysterious character who seems to have no connection to Mr. Westing or the other heirs. It is revealed that she was mistaken for Sybil Pulaski, a friend of Crow who was supposed to have been an heir instead.
In the end, Crow is revealed as the murderer. She is the former wife of Sam Westing and her pressuring led to the death of her and Westing’s daughter, Violet, because she didn’t want to marry the man she was betrothed to.
However, Turtle discovers that Sam Westing faked his own death and has been directing the game all along using several different identities. Turtle confronts Westing, who declares her the true winner of the Westing Game. Westing becomes Turtle Wexler’s mentor and pays for her expensive education. Westing dies on the Fourth of July twenty years after the game is over.
The Westing Game is a fantastically well-written, clever, and funny children’s mystery novel from illustrator turned author Ellen Raskin. I listened to the audiobook performance by Cassandra Campbell and thought her reading was excellent. The Newberry Medal winning story is certainly appropriate for older children, however, the murder element to the story might make the subject matter a bit heavier than is appropriate for a young reader. On that point, the book feels tonally more like an adult story, adapted for children, than a children’s book that might be enjoyed by adults. As a result, I still enjoyed it immensely despite my old age. The Westing Game shares a lot in its approach to story-telling for children with another children’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, a novel for which Raskin did the original cover art.
The subject matter of Raskin’s story is a clever murder mystery game, wherein sixteen potential heirs must solve clues, left behind by the deceased, to determine the identity of his murderer and to inherit his vast fortune. The contestants play the game believing that someone in their midst is a killer and they then face dangerous incidents throughout the novel which lead to growing tension and worry. The various characters we meet are all unique and interesting, connected to each other in some ways that are not at first obvious, and the mystery is complex and compelling right up to the moment it is solved.
Raskin does a brilliant job of blending the slow reveal to her mystery with an introduction to the various and sundry cast of characters involved. By the time we reached the end, I was invested in learning the outcome and also pleased with who solved it.
The novel betrays some children’s tale sensibilities, but it does so primarily in the final chapter, which functions as something like an epilogue. Many of the characters go on to more success and happiness in the rest of their lives than seems realistic. However, I did not find that I minded much, even as an adult, inasmuch as I was by that point thoroughly tangled in a children’s tale world where cynicism need not reign supreme.
If you enjoy Agatha Christie novels, or children’s literature generally, then I recomment The Westing Game.