A real-estate man, Barney Northrup (who is really Sam Westing in one of his many disguises) brings a group of sixteen people (with some extra family members) to live in a new building on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is called Sunset Towers, though it faces east, and many other things are suspicious about the estate agent and the building. But the apartments are new and plush, and all the of the people who are persuaded to live there are happy with their accommodations. The don't know yet that they will all be named in the will of the "dead" Sam Westing, a paper magnate who lived in a large estate within sight of Sunset Towers.
A junior-high-school girl named Turtle Wexler sees smoke coming from the Westing building, and she goes to investigate (as a prank, on Hallowe'en night). She finds the dead likeness of Sam Westing, and runs out of the house and tells the other heirs. Soon after, the will is read, and all of the residents of Sunset Towers are somehow involved in the will. There are clues embedded in the will, and whoever solves it will get the bulk of the fortune. All of the "pairs of heirs" get an advance on this money, and receive $5000 with a promise of $5000 more at a later stage of the game. This is how the Westing Game begins, with the heirs getting to know each other and trying to figure out the clues in Sam Westing's will.