17 April 2014

The Westing Game: 1979 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

Westing cover.jpg
Cover of book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
Samuel Westing: Eccentric Man

"I, Samuel W. Westing, hereby swear that I did nor die of natural causes.  My life was taken from me - by one of you!"

The millionaire Samuel Westing mysteriously dies, and sixteen people in the neighboring apartment building are chosen to come to the reading of the will.  Because the late eccentric loved his games, the sixteen near strangers, are to compete for a chance to win his fortune.  The only problem is that one of them probably killed the old man.  Is it the Chinese restaurateur James Shin Hoo, his wife Mrs. Hoo, or his son Doug?  Is it Jacob Wexler, podiatrist and bookie?  How about his wife, Grace, or daughters Angela and Turtle?  Maybe it is Angela's fiance, Doctor Denton Deere.  Is it one of the brothers, Theo and Chris Theodorakis?  Is it the dressmaker Flora Baumbach, or the judge J.J. Ford? Maybe it's the doorman, Sandy McSouthers, or the old washerwoman Crow.  Perhaps it is the secretary Sydelle Pulaski or Otis Amber the weird deliveryman.  One of them will win the game, and one of them will be exposed for his or her crime.  But who is it?  Thus begins the Westing Game.

The Westing Game is a novel by Ellen Raskin and one of the best mysteries I have ever read.  I have always enjoyed wordplay and there is a great deal of it in this story.  The story is also reminiscent of the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobel in that there is a mystery which  can only be found because of a way things could be worded.  This book also brought to mind the movie Rat Race in which there were several people scrambling to find clues to a fortune.

The author does an excellent job of weaving together stories, and shows how these sixteen people were chosen as contestants.  The way that she brings all of them together is both comical and sweet at various times.  There are stories that contrast each other as well as stories that parallel.  Almost all of the characters grow and change during the novel as well.  And unlike some stories  in which there is a large ensemble of main characters, there is no getting lost when the author switches from one character to another.

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