by Ellen Raskin
I’m happy to say that this is still — even after all these years — a charming, fun little book. For those who don’t know the plot, it’s this: Sam Westing has died, and 16 people –all connected to Sam Westing in some way — are called into solve the mystery of his “murder” in order to win his inheritance. It’s a rag-tag collection of people, from a judge to a doorman, to a dysfunctional family, to a couple of restaurant owners. There are several sympathetic characters: Doug Hoo, the resident jock/track star; Theo Theodorakis, an incredible support to his disabled older brother; and (my favorite) Turtle Wexler, 13-year-old spitfire. There are also some despicable characters, most notably Turtle’s mom. She is the epitome of overbearing mothers who have good intentions but go about it all wrong. Pushing her older daughter (at age 19!) into a marriage she doesn’t want, and emotionally abusive to Turtle… I disliked her with every fiber of my being.
I’m not sure if the puzzle was terribly well-plotted. I knew the answer, having remembered it from a previous read (maybe 10 years or so ago), but A read it and kind of felt the answer came out of nowhere. That didn’t much matter; she enjoyed the story for the characters. And perhaps that’s the real charm of the book. Raskin created a group of people that we can’t help but identify with and either love or hate. Either way, we’re more than happy to go on a bit of an adventure with them.