The Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin

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Who are the bookie, the bomber, the burglar, and the mistake in The Westing Game?

The bookie is Dr. Wexler, the bomber is Madame Hoo, the burglar is Angela, and the mistake is Sydelle Pulaski.

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Dr. Jake Wexler is a forty-five-year-old podiatrist who is seemingly happy and content with life. Underneath his mask of happiness, humor, and wit, however, he's just a man in need of some attention and excitement in life; he wants to do something more than just be a foot doctor, and his obnoxious wife only fuels this desire, as she often ridicules his profession. Thus, he decides to try gambling and becomes a bookie, or a bookmaker.

Madame Sun Lin Hoo is a twenty-eight-year-old Chinese woman who is married to the fifty-year-old restaurant owner James Shin Hoo and wishes to move back to China. Madame Hoo struggles with the English language and doesn't have anyone to help her learn it—she doesn't have any close friends, and her acquaintances tend to ignore her. Thus, she becomes a burglar and steals valuable objects from people in order to feel some connection to them.

The twenty-year-old Angela Wexler is Dr. Jake Wexler's eldest daughter. From the very start, it becomes clear that her pretentious mother, Grace, favors her over her sister, Turtle, as she's the classic "perfect child"—she's beautiful, privileged, and engaged to a surgeon. However, Angela doesn't want to be perfect and she doesn't want to get married so young; she wishes to become a doctor herself and wants people to acknowledge her character, skills, and intelligence, not just her beauty. Angry and desperate, she decides to set off bombs in order to change the way everyone perceives her and to take back control of her life. Angela Wexler is the bomber.

Finally, Sydelle Pulaski is the mistake, as she was accidentally invited to participate in the Westing Game and to be a tenant of Sunset Towers and a potential heir of Sam Westing instead of Sybil Pulaski.

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Ellen Raskin's rather humorous mystery novel centers on sixteen "heirs" to a fortune who must discover the murderer of Sam Westing, an industry magnate. In order to do so, they must play the mysterious Westing game and determine the culprit in order to win a huge inheritance.

Before the so-called heirs are convened, these tenants of the Sunset Towers--which ironically face East--have been sold apartments by Barney Northrup. The narrator describes the "specially selected tenants" as 

A dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge. And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake. Barney Northrup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person.

  • The bookie is Dr. Wexler, the podiatrist, who becomes fixated on gambling.
  • The burglar is Mrs. Hoo, the second wife of the restaranteur who pilfers in order to save enough to return to China.
  • The bomber is Angela Wexler who sets a bomb on herself, perhaps, to mar her beauty so that others will perceive her in more than a superficial way.
  • The mistake is Sydelle Pulaski. She is a mistake because it was Sybil Pulaski that the private investigator Otis Amber was to have selected;...

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  • he simply read the name wrong.

The sixteen people who are selected are paired with another and given $10,000 and a set of clues with which they must discover who murdered Sam Westing. The winner will be the one who perceives qualities in people beyond first impressions. Westing's elaborate puzzle serves a real purpose in that it changes the lives of many of the characters in a positive way, underpinning the theme of the redemptive power of love. Each pair in the Westing puzzle profits spiritually from working on the puzzle and interacting with another person.

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The bookie (short for "bookmaker", the name for a person who takes illegal bets) is, shockingly, none other than the respected podiatrist, Dr. Wexler.  The bomber, perhaps even more surprisingly, is his shy, quiet, "perfect" daughter Angela.  The mistake is the secretary Sydelle Pulaski, whose name was mistaken by Otis Amber for the intended heir, a woman named Sybil Pulaski.  The burglar is Madame Hoo, who in her non-English-speaking isolation is misguidedly stealing trinkets to sell in order to get enough money to go back to China.  Each of these people (even Ms Pulaski) is struggling with various issues which are eventually resolved through the personal interactions made possible by Sam Westing's game.  Dr. Wexler is far more interested in gambling (legal or otherwise) than he is in medicine.  He goes onto a different career after the game.  Angela, a quiet girl who has always wanted to go to college, would prefer studying to marrying the young up-and-coming Dr. Deere.  She sets the bombs in order to derail her mother's relentless plans for her early marriage.  Sydelle Pulaski craves attention, and through the game she gains money and confidence, which eventually leads to her marriage and the personal contact she wants.  Madame Hoo's depression becomes evident to her family during the game, and the discovery of her kleptomania leads to better understanding between her and her husband. 

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