Sixteen people are named by a paper products owner, a Mr. Westing, as his heirs. He gives them a challenge to find who killed him. Also riding on the solution is a pile of money; the heir who correctly solves the puzzle inherits Mr. Westing’s fortune. Mr. Westing “dies” on Halloween Night. The sixteen also are tenants and/or work in the building—Sunset Towers, which is owned by him. It is a carefully managed plot by Mr. Westing as to who will live and work in Sunset Towers as well as who will participate in the challenge. Think the board game Clue or one of the guest-led mysteries at a Agatha Christie-style dinner theatre. There are several dead ends and misleading clues—one being how did Mr. Westing, know he would be the victim of foul play?
The clues are not hard; the book is classified as a children’s—middle grade though it could easily be a YA novel. Ellen Raskin, the author though was inventive in her use of commonly known songs and rhymes and bringing to life by showing, not merely describing, the interaction among the characters in their race to solve the puzzle.
For a children’s YA mystery, it is cute and fascinating. It is also compact, not drawn out, no sag in the middle like some of the adult novels I have read. The number of characters (3 or 4 additional, plus the 16 heirs) is at times a downside—confusing as to who is speaking and about whom. If you read The Westing Game in one sitting, the confusion relating to minor details will go away. Some of the language from one of the younger characters seemed too adult to me.
Still, all in all, a good way to escape into another world.