Taste of Milwaukee

Posted on 29 January 2009 by Molly Petitjean

As a kid, I read a ridiculous amount of books. So many, in fact, that instead of being yelled at for not doing my chores or running around outside, my parents would yell at me for staying in my room and reading too many books in a day. I averaged three novels a day in the summer; meaning twenty-one books to check out on my weekly library trip. Clearly, I was surprised when my friends were talking about their favorite books as kids and they mentioned one that I had not heard of.

The Westing Game, written by Milwaukee native Ellen Raskin, was awarded the 1979 Newbery Medal and was apparently quite popular with my friends. Since I would not be the only one to have not read this book, I bought it online and gave it a shot. I loved it! Raskin, who grew up during the Great Depression, is a master of character creation. Each of the 16 heirs is more than they seem. This interest in characters came from her summers on Lake Michigan, acting out scenes with her sister. It is clear that she incorporated several of these childhood roles into the players in her novel.

Set in Milwaukee, this mystery takes the reader through an evolving investigation of paper tycoon Sam Westing’s murder. In his will, Westing names 16 heirs and promises the pair who can find his murderer a $200 million inheritance. Each pair is given a set of clues and a two-week deadline to discover which of them is the murderer. All of the heirs have different connections to Westing, and all are eager to uncover the others’ connection to the millionaire as they find out that one of them is the murderer.

Despite being a children’s book, I had great fun reading this twisting tale of greedy heirs and clever deceit. Because it was set in Milwaukee, there were several landmarks that were interesting to read about in this national best seller. Things like Lake Michigan, Pulaski, the paper trade and UW-Madison will ring particularly familiar to Wisconsin readers. The characters did not have the same depth that most adult novels require, but the quick 216-page novel flew by as I tried my best to solve the puzzle.

It was easy to figure out the clues because the reader is the only one with all of them, but it was harder to decipher what they meant. Who was the murderer? Was it the servant’s child with the debt of an expensive education to repay? Or maybe the eccentric elderly delivery man? The Chinese restaurant owner with an axe to grind? His lonely wife who wants only to return the country her husband forced her to leave? Was it the wedding crazed housewife? Or could it be the doorman, laid off from the paper company’s staff years ago? In fact, who is the mysteriously dead Sam Westing?

This page turner is a great read at any age and goes to the top of my list of fun novels. Take a break from your physics textbook and turn your brainpower toward a mystery with the price tag of $200 million. Give The Westing Game a try; it is easy to get lost in. Like Raskin says, “A book is a wonderful place to be. A book is … a surprise package – and within the wrappings is a whole new world.”

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