What do you do when a dead guy gives you and your partner (whom you may or may not know) $10,000 and tells you to find the person who killed them? That's what the sixteen supposed heirs of Sam Westing have to figure out by November 15, and the conclusions they reach are as varied and eccentric as the people involved in the ensuing Westing game.
Ellen Rankin's masterpiece has rightly been declared a modern classic, not just because it's a fantastic mystery novel (the only one on the Newbery Medal list, surprisingly) but because it combines a relentlessly entertaining story with poignant observations about living in (and out) of community with other people.
Plots like the one that unravels in the course ofThe Westing Game are difficult to summarize, both for fear of revealing surprises, and because the pacing is so rapid and complex. This is definitely a children's novel (though any adult who doesn't also enjoy it should probably get counseling), but it's one that keeps you guessing and thinking the whole time.
The set-up is pretty unbelievable: a bucktoothed real estate agent named Barney Northrup gets a bunch of handpicked tenants to inhabit a beautiful new apartment complex overlooking Lake Michigan. The hitch is even more fantastic: none of the tenants know they've been handpicked, nor by whom, nor to what end—participating in a massive hunt for a murderer and a fortune.
13-year-old Turtle (Alice (Tabitha-Ruth)) Wexler is as close to a main character as the novel has. She's brilliant, studies the stock market, and kicks people in the shins who have the temerity to pull her braid. She also has a beautiful sister, Angela, who everyone dotes on, a father who's a podiatrist and a ...., and a mother who neglects Turtle in favor of Angela.
But this is a novel with many main characters, including: Sydelle Pulaski, a Polish secretary with a flair for the dramatic; James Hoo, the proprietor of a failing Chinese restaurant; Theo Theodorakis, the intelligent and caring son of Greek immigrants who run a cafe on the building's first floor; Josie-Jo Ford, successful judge and former daughter of servants.
And of course the lovable doorman, Alexander "Sandy" McSouthers, former prizefighter with the beat-up mug to prove it. How are all these people tied together (not to mention the many others not named here)? More importantly, who are they? Not just, Who are they on paper?, but who are they all really, and why were they chosen to play the game?
You'll have to read the book yourself to get all the answers, but just solving the mystery isn't the point. This is a story about the walls we build around ourselves, what it takes to destroy them, and the sometimes eccentric lengths love drives us to take. After all the excitement,The Westing Game ends on a bittersweet note, made more beautiful by the cacophony that precedes it.
There are also many hilarious moments, mostly in the form of deadpan dialogue and the all-too-true-to-life thoughts Raskin puts in her characters's minds. And, like any truly great novel, not all the ends are perfectly tied up and accounted for by the end, though the epilogue is highly satisfactory.
Some people are of the opinion that certain books should be read simply because they've made it onto certain lists. I am not such a person, and the fact that The Westing Game won a Newbery Medal is of little importance to me (and may even be a demerit). No, this book should be read by everyone because it is, truly and really and undisguised, a very good book.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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