Six families have moved into the Sunset Towers, a new apartment building overlooking the shore of Lake Michigan. It only has one tower and it faces east. Although some of them don't know it, each one has a connection to Sam Westing, the millionaire recluse who built a fortune out of paper products and whose vacant mansion sits on the hill near the apartments. And each one is named in Sam Westing's will.
I, Samuel W. Westing, resident of Westing County in the fair state of Wisconsin in the great and glorious United States of America, being of sound mind and memory, do hearby declare this to be my last will and testament.Yes, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is another of that venerable tradition in mystery stories, the Eccentric Millionaire's Will. Sam Westing has set up an elaborate game, pitting his heirs against each other to find his murderer.
FIRST: I returned to live among my friends and my enemies. I came home to seek my heir, aware that in doing so I faced death. And so I did.
Today I have gathered together my nearest and dearest, my sixteen nieces and nephews (Sit down, Grace Windsor Wexler) to view the body of your Uncle Sam for the last time.
SECOND: I, Sam Westing, hearby swear that I did not die by natural causes. My life was taken from me -- by one of you!
Some of the heirs have reason to hate Westing. All of them have secrets, and some are not whom they claim to be.
Raskin juggles an ensemble cast of sixteen heirs, but the main character is Turtle Wexler, a junior high kid who gets overlooked because of her prettier older sister Angela. Her mother is a snooty social climber and would-be interior decorator, and her father is a good-natured but harried podiatrist who doesn't make nearly as much money as his wife pretends. Other heirs include an angry restauraneur whom Westing cheated long ago, a sweet but simple dressmaker, an eighty-year-old delivery boy, a secretary with a mysterious wasting disease...
And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake. Barney Northrup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person.The heirs team up with partners and try to puzzle out the enigmatic clues Sam Westing has left them. But what is Westing's real game? "...We'll play the game just as Sam Westing would have played it," Judge J.J. Ford, one of the heirs, tells her partner, Sandy the doorman. "Mean!"
The novel was written for young adults, and the kids -- the fiesty Turtle, Doug the high school track star, aspiring writer Theo and his disabled brother Chris -- are central to the story; but all of the heirs take their turn in solving the mystery. Raskin shifts the point of view from one character to the next, sometimes within the same scene, but she makes it work. She manages to make even the less likable characters such as the pompous intern, Denton Deere; Turtle's pretentious and bossy mother, Grace; and even the furtive and fanatical cleaning lady, Crow; sympathetic.
Some elements of the story are a bit dated. It's hard to imagine the subplot involving a "mad bomber" getting so little attention from the police in our post-9/11 world. Still the characters are vividly drawn and the puzzles are fun.
So on with the game. The solution is simple if you know whom you are looking for. But heirs, beware! Be aware!
Some are not who they say they are, and some are not who they seem to be.
God bless you all and remember this:
Buy Westing Paper Products!