The Westing Game Book Review: The Tale of a Good Mystery

The Westing Game is Ellem Raskin's Newberry Medal winning novel, which was written in 1978. It's a young adult novel, but a lot like many books targeted to that demographic (like Twilight) it also appeals to adults. The Westing Game is a unique little novel that would be enjoyed by those who like solving puzzles or figuring out mystery stories. It is also a novel that many will enjoy if they have the patience to figure out all the characters and connect all the various plots. The Westing Game is definitely not your typical reading experience with your usual cast of characters.

The Westing Game is essentially a murder mystery, but like much of the novel, one of the most unorthodox murder mysteries you'll ever read. The story begins with 16 individuals being summoned to the reading of the will of millionaire Sam Westing, but they quickly learn this isn't a typical reading. The reading reveals that Westing knew that someone was going to murder him. The individuals are divided into 8 pairs and each pair is given a clue that is to help reveal the murderer. Similar to most popular murder mysteries (or at least those of the Agatha Christie kind), it is believed the killer is among the 16. It is also revealed that the pair to solve the mystery will inherit the fortune of Sam Westing.

The Westing Game is an atypical young adult novel. It is sharper, wittier and smarter than your usual fare. It isn't necessarily attempting to teach any lessons, but it does demand you to use your brain and intellect. It expects that you try to solve the mystery as well, and fills the book will numerous puzzles for you to try to solve along with the characters. But in the end, its first goal is to entertain and deliver an interesting story.

One of the best words to describe this novel is quirky. The characters are full of odd and unique traits. Everyone has their weird vices or eccentric personality traits. It makes for a colourful story and allows for the story to go in surprising directions. It isn't just the characters that make the novel quirky. The story unravels in an unconventional way. It is full of puzzles, but not the type you can play at that exact moment. Instead, the novel is just one giant puzzles for you to try to solve while engaging in the story. You believe the story is about one thing, but then it constantly changes to something entirely different. It allows for a rare type of reading experience.

You can tell that Raskin meticulously plotted out the mystery. It isn't one of those stories where the evidence lead to one direction, but then it pulls a twist that doesn't make any logical sense (for the sole purpose of swerving or shocking the reader). It does have twists and turns, but they fit within the story. The revelation at the end makes logical sense, and fits within the confines of the story told. This is a huge compliment to the skills of Raskin, because there is many seasoned mystery writers that get snared in the trap of conflicting evidence or muddled plot points. The end is satisfying because it could surprise you, but it still makes sense. I did end up solving the mystery before the story ended, but I wasn't disappointed because things still resolved in a natural and satisfying way (plus it's fun being able to solve the puzzles given throughout the story).

I did have some small problems with the story. I am a fan of quirky characters and usually I am drawn to tales that are full of them. I felt some of the character were closer to caricatures rather than believable people. They weren't as fleshed out or layered as they could have been (as compared to the actual mystery). They seemed to have one or two unique traits, and then run them to the ground. It sometimes felt like their personality was driven by the story rather than the other way around. Speaking of story, at times it felt like the mystery and puzzles overpowered the actual story elements. There were a few plot points that I found intriguing, but then they ended up going largely ignored because it didn't fit into the grater mystery. The focus on the mystery is appreciated, but I felt at times it hurt the actual telling of the tale.

The Westing Game is a fun mystery, and the story is entertaining. It was written in the 70s, and so its age may show through, but I think it would still be enjoyed by most junior high or even high school readers. The fun is in the mystery and puzzles, and that is where The Westing Game truly shines while delivering a unique and enjoyable tale.