You know how you're not supposed to hate the player, you're supposed to hate the game? Well, when it comes to this totally bizarre, ominous and brain-tickling mystery, you'll end up loving both the game and its cast of players.
The Westing Game is a murder mystery like no other. And believe us, we've read more mysteries than you can shake a stick at... or shake a candlestick at (in the library with Colonel Mustard), for that matter.
This novel ticks the three Awesome Murder Mystery boxes: it has an unusual plot, a nutso bunch of characters, and more unexpected twists than you can count. But it's also a lot more than that—the puzzle at its heart does more than just reveal whodunnit. It reveals what every single character is hiding, as well as what they're hiding from.
Written in 1978 by Ellen Raskin, it won the 1979 Newbery Medal, which is pretty much the best prize you can get in children's literature. Once you win the Newbery, though, you're golden; the rest is gravy.
And Raskin's book has remained super-popular in the thirty-plus years since it was published. It's taught in elementary and middle schools all over the United States. It's enjoyed by readers aged eight to eighty. In fact, there are few mysteries written for adults that are as obsession-making and intricate, and with $200 million at stake in the game, figuring out the clues is hardly child's play. Step aside, Poirot.
Today, The Westing Game is considered Raskin's most famous work, even though she was also a prolific illustrator and designer who created several original picture books (as well as doing the cover art for some decidedly grownup novels). But The Westing Game, with its intricate plotting, sneaky character development and unexpected conclusion, is the thing that really keeps people coming back for more.
The Westing Game, like a wedding cake, a parfait, an onion, or Shrek, contains layers. And that's good news for you, O Shmooper, because it means that there are a few different reasons why you should care about this Newbery Medal-winning masterpiece.
Let's start with the top layer: it's a mystery, guys. (According to our very extensive research, exactly 0% of the world's population dislikes mysteries.) And The Westing Game is a mystery with all the best the genre has to offer—a waxy body in a desolate mansion, a group of possible murders, a family feud, a set of cryptic clues, some explosions, and—oh yeah—$200 million bucks riding on figuring out just whodunnit.
But there are more layers—the characters. These eccentrics (seriously, just about everyone in this novel is a totally lovable weirdo) are hiding layer upon layer of secrets. Whether that secret is as extreme as a disguised identity or as identifiable as a desire to act against their parents' wishes, these characters conceal waymore than they reveal.
In fact, part of the gray matter-teasing pleasure of this novel is figuring out what's really going on inside the minds and hearts of the tenants of the Sunset Towers.
There's no need to choose between a novel that makes you hunt for clues and a novel that gives you Freud-level access to the psyches of a group of strange heirs. The Westing Game offers both. You can have complicated strategy games, claustrophobic constant suspicion, a hunt for an evil murderer... and you can meet one of the most intriguing set of suspects in literature.
In other words, you can have your layer cake and eat all of its delicious layers.
Raskin as Wisconsin Author
This homepage links to a wealth of info about Raskin and her work.
I'll take Crime Scene for $300.
Review the book by playing Westing Game Jeopardy!
"America the Beautiful"
Read the lyrics to "America the Beautiful," learn about its history, and listen to the tune here.
The Westing Game, a.k.a. Get a Clue!
Check out the 1997 movie version starring Ray Walston, Diane Ladd, and a young Shane West.
Trailer for Get a Clue!
Check out a fun preview for the film version here.
Look at an awesome archive, including Raskin's annotations and typed notes.
Legos in Chapter 16
Watch Lego toys act out Chapter 16.
Raskin on The Westing Game Manuscript
"An Explanation of the Westing Game Manuscript Materials"
Evolution of the Cover
Watch the design for the original cover take shape.