Book Review: The Westing Game

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Westing Game is a sophisticated mystery with a lively plot and many funny moments.  The multimillionare Sam Westing names sixteen heirs in his will, which turns out to be a complex riddle, and the one who solves it inherits his estate.  Among the heirs are Shin Hoo, a domineering Chinese restauranteur with an underappreciated athlete son and a homesick young wife; J.J. Ford, a bootstrapping African-American judge; Grace Wexler, a pretentious housewife with a podiatrist husband; their daughter Angela, a beautiful, browbeaten future bride; and her sister, the neglected but spirited Turtle.  All the heirs live in Sunset Towers, and three of the building staff are also heirs: Sandy Northrup, the doorman; Otis Amber, delivery man; and Bertha Crow, cleaning woman, a grimly pious former alcoholic.

The story is well conceived, an enjoyable read not only for the riddle but for many sly digs at human foibles, as secrets are revealed at every turn.  However, it lacks any transcendent meaning, and a discerning parent may need to help younger readers interpret it.  The players are motivated by the desire to win the inheritance, not to solve a crime allegedly committed.  There is little sense of moral justice, and the winner gains the inheritance through cleverness rather than virtue.

By necessity, the sixteen characters are thinly drawn, and they are caricatured enough that their many faults (which include lying, drunkenness, arson, and terrible parenting) may be interpreted comedically.  For Christian families, the primary concern may be Bertha Crow’s religion.  She wears black, prays with pinched lips, and regularly limps to the Good Salvation Soup Kitchen, presenting an impression of joyless, painful religion.  Hers is the only portrayal of spirituality, and it falls far short of the joyful, grace-filled faith in Christ’s work that characterizes genuine Christianity.

The Westing Game is a good yarn –  a page-turning, entertaining read with a satisfying conclusion.  The plot, characters, and riddle are perfectly suited to its 8-12 reading level, but its cynical portrayal of religion and its temporal focus on status and money may unduly influence immature readers.  If you’re looking for a story with an ultimate theme, better look elsewhere.

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Publication Information: Raskin, Ellen. Westing Game, The. Puffin. 1978. ISBN: 0140386645.
Categories: 3 Stars, Age 08-12, Newbery Medal
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Posted on July 30, 2009

4 responses to Book Review: The Westing Game

  • Cortney says:

    I loved the Westing Game! Definitely a story that sticks with me as a memorable read – I love mysteries, and this one kept me intrigued all the way through. Plus the characters are such fun.

  • Jessica says:

    Thank you for reviewing this book with a Christian worldview in mind. This is extremely helpful to a parent who is attempting to disciple her child through the pitfalls of teen life. I am not just looking for a good yarn, or a well-written book, but for books that edify our spirits and spur us on to good works for our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Skyler says:

    This is my favorite book EVER! Write on, Ellen!

  • Lisa says:

    That was extremely helpful. Thank you!

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