The Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin

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The Westing Game Summary

The Westing Game is a mystery novel by Ellen Raskin, published in 1978.

  • The novel follows the lives of sixteen disparate characters who are brought together by the death of millionaire Samuel Westing.
  • Westing’s will reveals that each of the sixteen is a potential heir to his fortune, but they must first solve a complex puzzle.
  • The novel is notable for its large cast of eccentric characters and its witty and often caustic commentary on American society.


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The Westing Game is Raskin's closest approach to a classic mystery story. Sixteen interesting and bizarre characters, who live in a mysterious apartment building, compete to become heir to the Westing millions. Inspired by the intrigue surrounding Howard Hughes's will and by the celebration of the bicentennial of the United States, the novel combines a tricky mystery with a tribute to American opportunity. Like Figgs & Phantoms and The Tattooed Potato & Other Clues, The Westing Game incorporates some of Raskin's special interests. Would-be heirs play both chess and the stock market in their attempts to solve the puzzle and gain a fortune.

In addition to being a satisfying mystery, The Westing Game is Raskin's exploration of material success and the importance of money. While Sam Westing and his wife achieved the good life, they sacrificed their daughter along the way. Raskin explores their life in light of the need for love, the challenge of American business, and the possibility of getting a second chance in life. She examines the degree to which family members can influence children and the need for young people to determine their own destinies.

Raskin's humor celebrates the variety and richness of the human experience and wittily assesses its shortcomings. She is especially sensitive to the plight of characters who, while they are part of American society, are perceived as different from other people. The cast of characters includes a new immigrant, a minority member, a disabled person, a stereotyped woman, and a poor person. The evolution of the relationships among the wildly disparate and cranky Westing heirs is as important in the novel as the solution of the mystery.

In The Westing Game, the last novel she published in her lifetime, Raskin summarizes and resolves some of her recurring themes with an emphasis on hope and forgiveness. As in all her novels, the happy ending is surprising and wildly original, and the wit is honest and tough.

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