A Death in the Family
Chapter 1: Sunset Towers On the Fourth of July, a sixty-two-year-old delivery boy delivers letters to the future tenants of Sunset Towers. The apartment building is being rented by salesman Barney Northrup. Soon, Sunset Towers is occupied by the families Theodorakis, Wexler, Hoo, Ford, Baumbach and Pulaski. But one of them is a mistake: Barney Northrup rented an apartment to the wrong person.
Chapter 2: Ghosts or Worse It’s approaching Halloween. Delivery boy Otis Amber and doorman Sandy McSouthers scare the kids with a story about the Westing mansion across the road. Theo Theodorakis, Doug Hoo and Turtle Wexler listen as the two men tell them how a pair of kids went into the Westing house on Halloween for a bet. They came out screaming. One ran right off the cliff into the lake; the other ended up in the state asylum. Turtle immediately makes another Halloween bet — two dollars for every minute she stays in the Westing house. Meanwhile, Chris Theodorakis, Theo’s younger brother, spies on the group from the apartment. He sees smoke coming from the mansion’s chimney, and wonders if it has to do with the person he saw limping into the house while he was birdwatching. Chris later tries to tell his brother about it, but he is afflicted with a disorder that keeps him confined to a wheelchair, prone to seizures and a stammer that is difficult to understand.
Chapter 3: Tenants In and Out Angela Wexler is being fitted for her wedding dress by Flora Baumbach when she sees smoke rising from the Westing house chimney. When Turtle bursts in with the late news, her mother Grace tells her off for carrying stories and interrupting the wedding preparations. Angela is engaged to Denton Deere, a plastic surgery intern. Turtle stalks off while her mother dotes on Angela, her favorite. Their father Doctor Jake Wexler is cutting a corn from the toe of Ms. Crow, the cleaning woman. She sees the smoke from the Westing house and tells the podiatrist that Westing is roasting in Hell.
Mr. Hoo tells his son off for carrying ghost stories about Sam Westing when he should be studying. He thinks Doug the track star is a dumb jock. Mr. Hoo is angry about the lack of business for his Chinese restaurant, and even angrier that Westing seems to be back.
Judge J.J. Ford, the first black woman to be judge in the state of Wisconsin, arrives at her apartment. Sandy wants to gossip about the Westing house, but this puts the judge in a bad mood — she owes Westing money, and fears that one day he will demand her to repay the debt.
One person at Sunset Towers has not noticed the smoke rising from Westing’s chimney — Sydelle Pulaski, the secretary. In order to get attention, she limps with a pretend wasting disease and paints her crutches in outrageous patterns.
Chapter 4: The Corpse Found It’s Halloween night, and Turtle is determined to win the bet so that she can take out a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. However, Turtle runs out screaming after only twelve minutes — she has found Sam Westing dead in his bedroom.
The next day, the article “Sam Westing Found Dead” appears in the newspaper. It contains the biography of an eccentric man: an
immigrant who made a fortune with paper products; a patriot who dressed as Uncle Sam every Independence Day and set off fireworks; a father whose daughter drowned the eve of her wedding; a husband whose wife divorced him; a businessman who was crippled in a car accident on the way to a lawsuit; and a millionaire who disappeared for years until being found dead in his mansion.
That very day, Otis the delivery boy delivers sixteen letters to sixteen Westing heirs.
Chapter 5: Sixteen Heirs The heirs gather. Grace Wexler, who believes her obscure great-uncle Sam was Sam Westing, is surprised to see other people there who could not possibly be related to him. All the heirs, as well as the characters we haven’t yet met, assemble: the Wexler family, the Hoo family, Theo and Chris Theodorakis, Flora Baumbach, Angela’s fiancé Denton Deere, Otis Amber, Sandy McSouthers, Judge J.J. Ford, Crow and Sydelle Pulaski.
The Game Begins
Chapter 6: The Westing Will Ed Plum, Westing’s legal executor, reads the will while Sydelle Pulaski takes shorthand notes. Westing’s will swears that “I did not die of natural causes. My life was taken from me — by one of you!” implying murder. The will goes on to say that “The heir who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the…” at which point Sandy shouts, “Ashes!” making a joke about ashes scattered to the four winds. Finally, the heirs are paired off and given clues that will reveal the answer to the game — the name of the murderer. The skeptical Judge Ford examines a certificate of sanity before they proceed to the game room.
Chapter 7: The Westing Game In the game room, Theo sees someone has moved a pawn on the chessboard. He moves a knight against his unknown opponent. Each pair receives five thousand dollars each: Mrs. Hoo and Jake Wexler (both are absent and don’t get their money); Turtle and Flora Baumbach; Chris and Denton; Sandy and Judge Ford; Grace and Mr. Hoo; Berthe Erica Crow and Otis Amber; Theo and Doug; and Sydelle and Angela. Each pair pores over their clues, but all are confused and stumped. The last statement of the will is no help: while it says that it’s what they don’t have that counts, no one wants to share clues with a possible murderer. The will ends with a cheery, “Buy Westing Paper Products!”
Chapter 8: The Paired Heirs That night, a blizzard traps the tenants of Sunset Towers. Denton is snowbound at the hospital and Sandy at home. Everyone else tries to sweet-talk Sydelle and Angela into showing them the shorthand notes. When the two visit Chris, he asks them for names of grains, and makes the connection between “oats” and Otis Amber. His clues are FOR, PLAIN, GRAIN and SHED.
Turtle and Flora decide to invest in the stock market, and buy stock that matches their clues: SEA, MOUNTAIN, AM, and O. Turtle takes the instruction to “buy Westing paper products” seriously and buys that stock as well.
Grace and Mr. Hoo aren’t getting along or getting anywhere with their clues: FRUITED PURPLE WAVES FOR SEA. However, she does reveal that her real middle name is not Windsor but Windkloppel, which she had to change after marrying her Jewish husband.
Doug and Theo are stumped with HIS, N, ON, TO, THEE and FOR. Doug doesn’t care about the game, but Theo wants to win the inheritance to help his brother. He determines to find out who was playing chess against him at Westing’s house.
Judge Ford doesn’t believe Westing was murdered: She believes that he is reaching out from the grave to punish one of the heirs who offended or hurt him in the past. Deciding to beat Westing at his own game, she ignores her clues — SKIES AM SHINING BROTHER — and starts researching the heirs to see what in their backgrounds might bring down Sam Westing’s revenge.
Sydelle and Angela look at their clues — GOOD GRACE FROM HOOD SPACE — as well as all the clues they collected from spying on other pairs. But when they decide to examine the will again, they discover that Sydelle’s notes have been stolen!
Chapter 9: Lost and Found When Sydelle tacks up a “missing item” note to the bulletin board, other people start advertising as well: Grace for some missing jewelry, Turtle for her Mickey Mouse clock, Mr. Hoo for his restaurant, Flora for a pearl necklace, Theo for a clue-sharing session and Judge Ford for a party. As Judge Ford prepares for her party, her newspaper contact calls back with some interesting information: James Hoo once filed a lawsuit against Sam Westing for stealing one of his ideas.
Chapter 10: The Long Party At the party, Angela is depressed that all anyone wants to talk to her about is Denton, as if she’s nothing without her fiancé. Jake Wexler talks to Mrs. Hoo so that she can learn English, Judge Ford gets to know all the heirs and Theo asks around to see who can play chess. He learns that Sam Westing was quite the chess master himself, and makes the connection between 16 heirs and 16 chess pieces. Angela ends up crying in the kitchen with Crow while everyone else badgers Sydelle about the transcription of the will.
A Bomber in the Building
Chapter 11: The Meeting Everyone meets in the Theodorakis’s coffee shop to discuss sharing clues. Mr. Hoo reveals the stolen notebook, saying that he found it on a table in his restaurant. Grace, who knows shorthand, says that the notes are complete gibberish. An angry Sydelle retorts that she took the notes in Polish. Calling the meeting to order, Judge Ford suggests that everyone write down questions on paper to be read aloud anonymously.
Chapter 12: The First Bomb They have just gotten to Chris’s question when there is an explosion and Mrs. Theodorakis runs out of the kitchen, covered in tomato sauce. She says she saw multicolored sparks exploding everywhere. Mr. Theodorakis thinks it was a bomb, but everyone else decides that the explosion must have been an accident caused by heat from the stove. After the meeting, Turtle accuses Angela of stealing the notebook and not wanting to marry Denton. Judge Ford returns to her apartment, where her newspaper contact reveals that Mr. Theodorakis was Violet Westing’s escort to a Westingtown party years ago. The judge decides to hire a private investigator, and is shocked when she recognizes the name at the top of the phone book.
Chapter 13: The Second Bomb The bomber sets another bomb in Shin Hoo's restaurant. Since the coffee shop is being repaired, everyone goes to Hoos to eat. Theo talks college with Angela: She had to drop out of medical school and marry Denton because they didn’t have enough money to send her through school. Judge Ford learns that Flora Baumbach made Violet Westing’s wedding dress. Turtle and her father eat together, discussing the Packers and the falling stock market. Panic strikes when another firework bomb goes off, and Sydelle Pulaski has to go to the hospital. Angela accompanies her.
Chapter 14: Pairs Repaired The roads are cleared, but the luck ends there. The stock market, to Turtle and Flora’s dismay, is plummeting. Sandy is back and has made some good guesses on his and Judge Ford’s clues. However, he and the judge agree that they should ignore the clues and figure out who Westing was out to get. Crow has lost her clues and is acting strangely. Chris and Denton figure out that Judge Ford’s name is the same as her apartment, 4-D. Theo discovers that “may God thy gold refine,” a quote from the will, comes from the song “America the Beautiful.” When Angela goes to visit Sydelle at the hospital, she finds a note and two clues, THY BEAUTIFUL, in her handbag.
Chapter 15: Fact and Gossip Things get moderately back to normal. Turtle, Doug and Sandy discuss how Westing could have been murdered; Turtle thinks he looked too peaceful to have been murdered at all. Grace plans Angela's wedding shower and suggests the name "Hoo's on First" for Mr. Hoo's Chinese restaurant. That night, Judge Ford and Sandy look over their research on the Westing family. Violet Westing was supposed to marry a senator, but drowned the eve of her wedding. The senator turned out to be a criminal and it was rumored Violet killed herself rather than marry him. Judge Ford is disturbed to note how much Violet Westing resembles Angela Wexler, and hopes that history is not doomed to repeat itself.
The Clues Get Clearer
Chapter 16: The Third Bomb It's the day of Angela's wedding shower. Mrs. Hoo, stuck in an old-fashioned Chinese dress, feels almost as unhappy as the bride-to-be. Angela is opening her third present when it explodes in her face! The bomb squad is called and Angela rushed to the hospital, where she's put in the same room with her injured partner. It turns out that the "bomb" was made with fireworks. When her family comes to visit Angela in the hospital, Turtle gives her carpet bag back and tells her that setting off the bomb was a dumb idea. Angela — the one nobody suspects — is the bomber!
Chapter 17: Some Solutions Turtle and Flora are depressed because the stock market is dropping. Grace and Mr. Hoo think that "FRUITED" means "fruit-ED," as in Ed Plum the lawyer. Jake and Mrs. Hoo team up with them. Judge Ford and Sandy start profiling all the heirs, beginning with the Hoo family. Mr. Hoo once sued Westing over stealing his idea for a disposable paper diaper. Hoo still holds a grudge, but is now making headway with a new invention: paper innersoles. That night, Theo realizes his clues make a formula for an explosive chemical equation, and that the key letters left out are "Otis."
Chapter 18: The Trackers As Flora Baumbach braids Turtle's hair, Turtle reads that Westing Paper Products earnings are expected to double and orders Flora to sell all their other stock and put all the money in Westing Paper Products. She also asks Flora if she can call her Baba. As Sandy profiles Flora Baumbach in his notebook, we learn that Flora had a devlopmentally delayed daughter who died at the age of nineteen. He and Judge Ford also look over the investigator's notes for Otis Amber, Denton Deere and Sydelle Pulaski. Sydelle doesn't have a connection to Sam Westing, which the judge thinks is fishy.
Meanwhile, Theo has Doug trail Otis Amber all around town. The delivery boy is delivering new letters to all the Westing heirs. Chris gets one of these letters, then an unexpected visit from Denton. Denton brings news of a new medicine that might help Chris's disorder. The two of them leave for the hospital to try it out.
Chapter 19: Odd Relatives Turtle and "Baba" are beside themselves with excitement: Shares in Westing Paper Products are jumping. Sandy and Judge Ford continue profiling the heirs, but are stumped with Crow. She was once married to someone named Windy Windkloppel and has no apparent Westing connection. Crow, who is devoted to Angela, sends her another two clues: WITH MAJESTIES. The mystery of who Crow is is unraveled somewhat when Sandy and the judge look over their Wexler family notes. Grace's middle name is Windsor, but she was born Grace Windkloppel. They also unravel the mystery of Sydelle's Westing connection — she doesn't have one. Westing meant for Sybil Pulaski, his ex-wife's childhood friend, to be an heir — but he got the wrong person.
Chapter 20: Confessions Turtle and Baba sell their shares when WPP reaches its highest point in fifteen years, earning back all the money they lost earlier and more. Judge Ford and Sandy decide to interview one of the people who is not an heir: George Theodorakis, father of Theo and Chris. As a young man, George Theodorakis was Violet Westing's sweetheart. Because his family was poor, Mrs. Westing broke them up and arranged for her daughter to marry a senator. When Violet drowned herself, Mrs. Westing "went off her rocker" and disappeared from public view, later divorcing her husband. Judge Ford and Sandy speculate on what this means for the Westing Game. Judge Ford thinks the whole game is a trap to punish the person who hurt Westing most: the woman who caused his daughter's death. Westing's ex-wife must be one of the heirs, and Judge Ford decides to protect her by any means possible.
Suspicions and Targets
Chapter 21: The Fourth Bomb Theo takes his turn to follow Otis Amber. He is ashamed of his suspicions when Otis and Crow lead a group of homeless men into The Good Salvation Soup Kitchen, which they run together. Meanwhile, the only two heirs left to profile are Judge J.J. Ford and Sandy McSouthers. Sandy was a Scottish immigrant who worked in Westing's paper mill and was fired for trying to organize a union. Judge Josie-Jo Ford grew up in the Westing house, where her parents were a maid and gardener. She used to play chess with Sam Westing, but never managed to beat him. He ridiculed her for falling for his signature move, the queen's sacrifice — she took his queen, but he checkmated her in the next move. However, Westing did pay for her education in law school. Judge Ford has since feared that Westing would call upon her to repay the debt — in money or in legal favors.
When Theo returns to Sunset Towers, he walks right into the fourth bomb. On the elevator is taped the sign, "THE BOMBER STRIKES AGAIN!" on the back of Turtle's homework. Fearing that Theo suspected Angela, Turtle framed herself as the bomber. The discipline of this "delinquent" is left to Judge Ford, who suspects Turtle is protecting someone but doesn't say anything. Turtle confesses that she was in the Westing house and found the dead body, but that it looked like a wax dummy. The judge thinks it might have been a real wax dummy — perhaps Sam Westing isn't dead after all…
Angela the bomber is at the hospital with Sydelle, refusing plastic surgery for the scars on her face and also refusing to see Denton. However, he gives her one of their clues in a note. Angela and Sydelle figure out that the clues are the words to "America the Beautiful."
Chapter 22: Losers, Winners Turtle confesses publicly to the bombings. Grace Wexler has a minor meltdown over the identity of the bomber, and Jake takes her out to cheer her up before the next meeting of the heirs. Judge Ford is worried that Sam Westing will take his revenge on his ex-wife, whom she has deduced to be Crow. Suspecting Westing is alive, Judge Ford reasons that after the car accident and severe facial injuries fifteen years ago, he has a new face and a new name.
Meanwhile, Turtle has her cavity filled by Sandy's dentist, who explains that dentures are often made crooked and chipped to look realistic. Doug wins first place at his high school track meet, and Barney Northrup fires Sandy. Sandy thinks Otis Amber is really Sam Westing, and Crow fears she's in danger of Westing's revenge.
The Westing Game, Round Two
Chapter 23: Strange Answers The heirs assemble in the Westing house game room, where they each receive another ten thousand dollar check. Judge Ford again gives hers to Sandy. Ed Plum the lawyer asks them for their answers to their clues. Jake and Mrs. Hoo say "Boom"; Turtle and Flora say $11,587.50, the money they earned from investing in the stock market; Chris and Denton say that Westing was a good man who gave everyone the perfect partner to make friends; Judge Ford and Sandy give no answer as planned; Grace and Mr. Hoo accuse Ed Plum; Otis and Crow say "mother"; Sydelle and Angela sing "America the Beautiful" and accuse Otis Amber. Crow goes into the kitchen to get drinks and Theo takes white's queen on the chessboard, laughing at his anonymous opponent's mistake.
Chapter 24: Wrong All Wrong The heirs are ordered to "Go directly to the library. Do not pass Go." Ed Plum pulls an envelope out of the desk that declares all answers to be wrong, predicts that the one who took Westing's life will strike again and reminds the heirs that "It is not what you have, it's what you don't have that counts." Sandy suggests they arrange the clues in order to see what words might be missing. Judge Ford wonders why he's playing into Westing's hands — and then she realizes: Sandy was the one heir she didn't investigate. Sandy is Sam Westing in disguise.
They arrange the clues to form the first verse of "America the Beautiful." The missing letters and words form the name "Berthe Erica Crow," Sam Westing's ex-wife. Before anyone can accuse Crow, Judge Ford asks everyone to consider the consequences: There's no evidence of Westing's murder and Crow's only crime is that her name appears in a song. Ford is about to unmask Sandy as Sam Westing when the doorman collapses in agony and dies of a heart attack. Dr. Sikes, Ed Plum and several policemen arrive on the scene and pronounce him dead while Turtle cries and a stunned Judge Ford wonders how she could have been so wrong. Ed Plum reads the final statement of the will, and Crow names herself the answer to the Westing game. The police arrest her.
Chapter 25: Westing's Wake The remaining heirs try to puzzle out what happened. Doug says that Sandy was playing chess against Theo in the game room, but Sandy had claimed not to be a chess player. Denton snidely tells Turtle that she shouldn't have kicked Sandy, to which Turtle snaps that the only person she kicked that day was Barney Northrup. That gives Turtle an idea, and asks Angela to see the transcription of the will. Otis Amber says bitterly that Crow was sacrificed, and too late Judge Ford sees the truth of this — Westing made his signature chess move, the queen's sacrifice, to distract them. Crow was a red herring, and the Westing Game isn't over yet.
Chapter 26: Turtle's Trial Turtle calls her first witness to the "court" presided over by Judge Ford. She decides to prove that Crow didn't murder either Sam Westing or Sandy McSouthers. First she calls Chris Theodorakis, who testifies that he saw Dr. Sikes limp into the Westing house to light a fire. Then Turtle calls Otis Amber to the stand. When Judge Ford tells him to place his gun in the custody of the court, Otis reveals that he is not an idiot delivery boy but a private investigator. His clients were Sam Westing, Barney Northrup and J.J. Ford. Westing hired him to look after Crow after their divorce, Northrup hired him to investigate six heirs and Judge Ford hired him to investigate the heirs as well. However, the one heir Otis never investigated was Sandy McSouthers.
Turtle next calls Denton Deere to testify to whether the "body" of Sam Westing could have been a wax dummy. She also says that Sandy couldn't have died from poisoning of lemon juice, which is what she saw Crow fill his flask with. Finally, Turtle calls forth Sydelle Pulaski to ask her about the transcription of the will. There is one error: the sentence "The heir who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the…" was never finished, because at that point Sandy made a joke about ashes. The next word after that in the will is "Fourth."
At this point, Mrs. Hoo causes a scene by confessing to stealing various items around Sunset Towers in order to pay for a trip to China. She returns them to their owners and the trial continues. Turtle causes another stir by saying that Westing was alive when the will was read — disguised as one of his own heirs, the doorman Sandy McSouthers. She points out that the will never stated Westing was murdered — just that his "life was taken from me — by one of you."
Sam Westing "took" his own life as Sandy McSouthers, who then, Turtle lies, died when his medicine ran out. Judge Ford, suspicious of a last trick by Westing, wonders why he wouldn't have had his prescription refilled. Turtle says he wanted to choose his time to die. Really she has deduced the meaning of the missing word: "The heir who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the Fourth." Sam Westing had four identities: Westing, McSouthers, Northrup — and his final name is the answer to the game. Hoping to win, Turtle lets everyone else believe the game has been lost.
The Westing Game Won
Chapter 27: A Happy Fourth The police pronounce Crow innocent. Judge Ford asks Ed Plum to hand over the last document to the “court.” The last statement of the will gives them all the deed to Sunset Towers and thirty thousand dollars to Crow. The judge says that no one gets the two hundred million because they lost the game, but she suspects Turtle knows something.
The next day, Turtle sets out on her bike to find the “fourth,” the last identity of Sam Westing/Barney Northrup/Sandy McSouthers. West, North, and South are accounted for, and the fourth is Julian R. Eastman, chairman of the board of Westing Paper Products. Turtle arrives at his house and greets her Uncle Sam, the winner of the Westing Game.
Chapter 28: And Then… Turtle never reveals her secret. Every Saturday, she tells her family she’s going to the library while she plays chess against Eastman/Sandy. Otis Amber and Berthe Erica Crow are married. Judge Ford sells her apartment in Sunset Towers and uses the money to pay for Chris’s education, just as Sam Westing paid for hers. Meanwhile, Mr. Hoo patents “Hoo’s Little Foot-Eze” paper innersoles while Grace takes over his restaurant and renames it “Hoo’s on First.” Sydelle marries the president of Schultz Sausages, Jake Wexler goes into the gambling business, and Angela breaks off her engagement to Denton and returns to college.
Chapter 29: Five Years Pass Otis and Crow are happily married and their soup kitchen is thriving. Mr. Hoo’s new invention is thriving as well, though he hasn’t taken his wife to China yet. Madame Hoo, nicknamed “Sunny,” now speaks fluent English and maintains a friendship with Jake Wexler. Doug is an Olympic gold medalist, Theo is a writer, Jake Wexler is chairman of the State Gambling Commission and Denton is a neurologist. He and Angela renew their acquaintance and eventually marry. Chris goes to South America on a bird-watching tour. A new medicine controls his speech and limbs, but he is still confined to a wheelchair. Grace Wexler owns a restaurant chain, and Turtle enters college early. She also wins her first chess game from the master.
Chapter 30: The End? Turtle is now a millionaire, married to Theo and goes by the name T.R. Wexler. However, she’s still Turtle to her great-uncle and mentor, and he's still "Sandy" to her. She sits by the old man’s bedside the night he dies, but never tells anyone that she won the Westing game. After the funeral, she meets her niece Alice for lunch — a girl who wears a long braid down her back like Turtle used to and who resembles Turtle and Sandy. “The Westing Game” ends as Turtle asks her chosen heir, “Ready for a game of chess?”
- Image: Chessboard by nacu under MorgueFile License.
- Image: Uncle Sam Wants You by James Montgomery Flagg under Public Domain, from Wikipedia Commons.
- Image: Firecracker by brokenarts under Sxu License.
- Raskin, Ellen. The Westing Game. Dutton Children's Books, 1978.
- Image: Chess players in Dupont Circle by dbking under Attribution License.