Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game
 
How many characters can you fall in love with in a single book? SIXTEEN, The Westing Game says! The Westing Game is timeless and charming; Raskin has written a brilliant whodunit mystery that features a myriad of memorable characters and an exciting plot. This is my first re-read of The Westing Game in over ten years, and I still feel the same wonder and suspense as I did then.
 
 

Title: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin
Publication Date: June 1, 1978
Category: (Middle Grade) Mystery

 

Introduction

Six families have been selected to live in Sunset Towers, a luxurious apartment complex situated at the very edge of Westingtown near Lake Michigan. With the death of Samuel W. Westing, the founder of Westing Paper Products, sixteen people among the families in Sunset Towers are named heirs. Dear Uncle Sam, through his will, urges the heirs to find his murderer; the winner of the game gets Westing Paper Products and Sam Westing’s $200 million fortune. In the frantic competition to find the murderer among them, the drastically different heirs also have to deal with their own personal conflicts. Things are not as they seem… Who will win the Westing game?

Discussion

The characters in The Westing Game are captivating and dimensional, and Raskin brings out each of their personalities and quirks splendidly. The heirs include Jake and Grace Wexler and their daughters Angela and Turtle; Flora Baumbach, a dressmaker; Sydelle Pulaski, a secretary; James Shin Hoo, his wife Madame Hoo, and their son Doug Hoo; Dr. Denton Deere, Angela’s fiancรฉ; brothers Theo and Chris Theodorakis (but not their parents); Judge J. J. Ford, a female African-American judge; Crow, Sunset Towers’ cleaning lady; Otis Amber, a delivery boy; and Sandy McSouthers, Sunset Towers’ door man.

With this many characters to navigate through the story, it wouldn’t be surprising if some characters get bumped into the background. But that’s not the case here; all the characters grew on me, and I could sympathize with every one of them. They also grew on each other; characters who clashed at the beginning of the story slowly resolved their differences, and the relationship dynamics of unlikely pairs is an aspect that I looked forward to, a kind of happily-ever-after in its own way.

Raskin also spun a brilliant tale of mystery and deception. Although the mystery seems simple now because it’s a re-read for me, I can still appreciate how each stage of the plot is calculated and necessary to drive both the characters and the story. From the very beginning, Raskin is very forthright in revealing many of the secrets in The Westing Game, but because I didn’t know enough about the plot or the characters, her foreshadowing sparks a sense of anticipation and excitement.

Who were these people, these specially selected tenants? They were mothers and fathers and children. A dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge. And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake.

In addition to creating endearing characters and an intricate plot, Raskin’s witty and occasionally droll narrative instills even more life into the story. The Westing Game brings together many contrasting elements of light and dark, young and old, and good and bad – a subtle sense of discord that is unexpectedly satisfying.

Conclusion

Re-reading The Westing Game was truly a win-win-win: I fell in love with the characters again, immersed myself in the intricate plot, and enjoyed the nuances in Raskin’s work that I didn’t pick up when I read it over ten years ago. And it’s really saying something about this book when I haven’t read or listened to The Westing Game in YEARS, but can still remember Turtle’s braid, the fourth of July fireworks, and Madame Hoo shouting “Boom!” If you’re looking for a quick mystery read with humor, suspense, and delightful characters, I wholeheartedly recommend The Westing Game.

oldiessl

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14 thoughts on “Review: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

  1. I’m looking for a book for a 6th grade girl–who is reading at 6th grade level–she likes mysteries and humor. It sounds like this would be a good pick–what do you think? I’ve heard about this book for years and it always shows up on “Best Of . . . ” lists, but I’ve never read it. Do you have any other suggestions? (I was initially thinking of “The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler ” and may still go with that, but I’d love some other recommendations!)

    • I think The Westing Game would be a great choice! A fun mystery series that she might like is A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I really enjoyed; it’s a great mix of mystery, fantasy, and adventure, and has a lot of dark humor.

      I’ve heard good things about The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, as well as The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, if you’ve heard of it? But I haven’t read either…

  2. Oh, I really liked The Westing Game, too. Actually, I think it might be my favorite middle grade mystery. “all the characters grew on me, and I could sympathize with every one of them.” I felt the same way. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Great review!

  3. I’ve never read The Westing Game, but every time I heard about it, it sounds like a lot of fun. I don’t read many middle grade books, but I’m tempted to pick this one up.

    • I don’t read many middle grade books either, and usually the ones I do read are ones that I had read when I was in that age range, haha. You should give it a try though when you have time!

  4. I meant to read this when my kids were younger and they read it. But somehow, I never got around to it. I can’t believe how quickly the years have flown! Thanks for the reminder. I’ve got to put this one on my TBR list- I shouldn’t miss out on these childhood classics.

    • There’s just something magical about childhood classics… when I want to re-read something, it’s usually something I’ve read when I was a kid rather than a newer work. I hope you get a chance to read it, Susan! ๐Ÿ™‚

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