After eccentric millionaire Samuel Westing is found dead, sixteen people from the nearby Sunset Towers apartment building are invited to his mansion for the reading of his will. All of them are declared his heirs, but instead of receiving their inheritance, they are told that Mr. Westing was murdered and are given clues that will lead them to the killer... who is one of them. The first person to solve the riddle will receive two hundred million dollars from his estate. All of the heirs are assigned partners and each pair is given ten thousand dollars. Then they must work together to figure out the puzzle before anyone else does, while hoping that their partner isn't the murderer. As they work to piece it all together, the players in this unusual game are beset by a blizzard, and it also becomes apparent that there's both a thief and a bomber in their midst. Who will be the winner of the game and will the answer turn out to be what they're expecting?
The Westing Game is a Newberry Award winning, modern classic, middle-grade/YA story that was one of my favorites from childhood. A large and varied group of people are invited to move into Sunset Towers, a new apartment building on the shores of Lake Michigan. Not long after they take up residence there, smoke is seen coming from the chimney of the nearby Westing mansion, which was believed to be uninhabited for some time. The Sunset Towers doorman tells young Turtle Wexler a ghost story that prompts her and her friend, Doug, to sneak into the mansion, where Turtle finds the body of eccentric millionaire Sam Westing. Most of the residents of Sunset Towers are then invited to the mansion for the reading of the will in which all of them are named heirs. But there's a catch. The will states that Sam Westing didn't die of natural causes and that one among them is a murderer. In order to claim their inheritance, they must discover the name of the killer by piecing together clues left by the victim and the one who figures out the puzzle first will receive two hundred million dollars. The heirs are paired together and each team is given ten thousand dollars and a handful of words, which they must make sense of. As they work to figure it all out, they're beset by a blizzard, a thief, and a bomber, all of which only muddy the waters. Who will be the first to find the answer and will it be what they expect?
The Westing Game boasts a diverse, ensemble cast of sixteen heirs, who are the main players in the Westing Game. There's thirteen-year-old tomboy genius Turtle who plays the stock market, along with her older sister, Angela, who is considered the perfect angel of a daughter. Their parents, Grace, a wannabe socialite and decorator, and Jake, a podiatrist, are also players. Then there's Angela's fiance, Denton, who is a plastic surgery intern. The Hoo family, who own the Chinese restaurant on the top floor of Sunset Towers, are all heirs as well. James Hoo is an entrepreneur and inventor who had one of his inventions stolen by Sam Westing, his wife, Madame Hoo, who speaks little English and wants to go back to China, is the restaurant's cook, and their son, Doug, is a high-school track star. Flora Baumbach is an older dressmaker who is working on a wedding dress for Angela. The teenage Theodorakis brothers are heirs, but their parents who own the coffee shop on the first floor of Sunset Towers and who are in not-so-friendly competition with Hoo's restaurant are not. Theo Theodorakis is an aspiring writer, while his younger brother, Christos, is a disabled birdwatcher. J. J. Ford is a smart and well-respected appellate court judge. Sandy McSouthers is the building's doorman, who has a colorful past and a large family to support. Bertha Crow is the building's cleaning lady, while Otis Amber is an elderly delivery boy who brings messages to the residents about the Westing Game. And last but not least is Sydelle Pulaski, a middle-aged secretary who is always overlooked, so she gains attention by unnecessarily walking with a crutch that she creatively paints and uses like a fashion accessory. I have to give the author props for creating such a large and interesting cast of characters, and giving them each their own personalities and quirks, while wrangling them all successfully into a cohesive whole.
I read this book for the first time when I was in middle-school and it's typically classified as either a middle grade or YA book, but I found very little concerning content to report. Turtle finds the purportedly murdered body of Sam Westing, but it's rendered in a more spooky way with nothing graphic. There's some incidental violence in the form of "bombs" that are really just fireworks. Two people are injured and spend a few days in the hospital, but their injuries aren't life-threatening and they continue playing the game from their hospital beds. Turtle kicks people's shins when they tug her braids, but this is more humorous than anything. There's the mention of an off-canvas character from the past committing suicide. And then there are two deaths recorded on canvas but neither was particularly graphic. Throughout the book, various items go missing and are suspected to have been stolen, but eventually they're all given back. That's all I can think of, so overall, I'd say that the book is PG-rated and quite appropriate for its audience.
As I mentioned, I first read The Westing Game as a kid and I remember absolutely loving it. At the time, it became one of my all-time favorite books, but I hadn't read it again since then, until now. I honestly remembered very little of the story, only that an eccentric millionaire drew his heirs into playing a game for their inheritance. The book is a little slower in the beginning, because each pair of heirs have only a small portion of the clues. But the pieces gradually start coming together as the pairs investigate and start figuring things out. When they're all brought back together later on, then things really get moving as we discover just how clever and complex this game and the mystery surrounding it really is. I very much enjoyed the cast of characters and give the author kudos for writing such a diverse group back in the 1970s (when the book was first published). I like how the characters come together and how the two characters in each pair end up being good for one another. They could have been incredibly cutthroat given how much money was on the line, but for the most part, they're kind to each other and end up cooperating in many ways, which is a good lesson for kids and teens. Overall, I enjoyed this walk down memory lane and look forward to passing this book along to my grandchildren one day.
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