Book Review: (Giving up on) The Westing Game

I suppose we all have books that others rave about, but which we can’t seem to like or get into. For me, it’s The Westing Game.

Three different times over the years, I have valiantly tried to read this award-winning book by Ellen Raskin and all three times, I have tossed the book aside in frustration and confusion, and as a result, serious boredom. Seriously, I don’t get the fuss. Now, I consider myself a pretty strong reader, and I have always loved mysteries (my childhood went from Encyclopedia Brown to Ellery Queen in a heartbeat). This novel  is about a dead millionaire (Sam Westing) who has left his fortune to one of his 16 heirs, but they all must play the “game” in order to figure out who killed Westing  before they can claim their $200 million inheritance. The heirs are all paired up and given partial clues to a game, and each team must start from there.

On the surface, that sounds fine. A good mystery to unfold, and the use of chess as a metaphor — that’s right up my alley. I can get into that. It even sounds a bit like 10 Little Indians by Agatha Christie, right?  (note: one of my students made that remark to me when I was book talking The Westing Game).

Unfortunately, Raskin seems more intent on adding layers of characters and clues and complexity just for the sake of the act of doing so, and not for the sake of story and character development. I didn’t care a whit about any of the characters (not even Turtle, whom I know I need to be rooting or) nor could I keep track of the little asides that Raskin writes into the story which clearly as clues for the reader, but which don’t connect with each other and are too many in nature, causing an overwhelming sense of “red herring” disease.

No, I do not like The Westing Game.

But I should note that I have had students who have liked it and rave about it, and another of my colleagues who used to teach it loved it. Which makes me believe it just must be me and my own style of reading. I can live with that, even if it does leave me a little confused and wondering what it is that I am missing here.

Still, three times … and I’m out.

Peace (in the clues),


One Comment
  1. I read it as a kid and I never liked it either… I’m the kind of reader who reads too fast and then misses little details. Not good for reading mysteries. Then, recently I listened to the audiobook. So much better! Actually liked it and understood all of what was happening that time around.

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