Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Intriguing Puzzler

Ellen Raskin
Author and Illustrator

I was advised by a fifth-grader and his seventh-grade sister that The Westing Game was "pretty confusing." This young adult mystery by Ellen Raskin won the Newbery Medal in 1979. The title showed up in a list of puzzling mysteries solved by young amateur detectives that I wrote about here.

Always anxious to find a new and intriguing puzzler, I checked out The Westing Game from the library and now am about half way through.

Since I was prepared for 'confusing' I had my pencil and paper handy to keep track of characters and clues. It's a good thing.

There are sixteen main characters - unwitting heirs to Samuel W. Westing's fortune. They all live in a five-story building known as Sunset Towers which borders the Westing estate. They all have some connection to the multi-millionaire - as in two hundred million - even though some don't know how.

Per Westing's will, their mission is to find - based on clues that they are fed - his murderer. Yes, he knew he was murdered!

They are to work in pairs. Each pair has different clues that they don't share with the others and only the reader knows all the clues. They are very cryptic. Basically, what seem to be four random words. Each person has his or her own take on what the clues mean and how they might point to the killer.

The winner of the 'game' gets the Westing fortune. 

Some of the characters include the owner of the Chinese restaurant located at the top of Sunset Towers, the doorman of the building, a judge, a seamstress, two high school boys, and a woman who puts herself on crutches so people will notice her. Also in the mix are a podiatrist, his wife, and their two daughters. The younger of the daughters is Turtle, who is thirteen. She is clever, reads the Wall Street Journal, and has a ready kick to the shin of anyone so brave as to pull her pigtail. 

The book is not at all what I expected. The story is told in short sections within each chapter so the action jumps from one thing to another. I am hanging with it though and will let you know after the game ends if it all comes together.

The author, Ellen Raskin, wrote and illustrated twelve children's books and wrote four young adult novels. She also was the illustrator of some twenty books by other writers. Seems she had a clever mind.

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