Figgs and Phantoms



Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game is one of my all-time favorite books, and one of the books in contention for the most number of readings award on my bookshelf.  Recently, I realized I haven’t read anything else written by Raskin so I decided to mooch a copy of Figgs and Phantoms. I read this a few months ago and was waiting to read a book I could match with it for a thematic review, but I don’t think that will happen soon, so here I am reviewing it solo.

Figgs and Phantoms won the Newbery Honor in 1975 before Westing Game won the Newbery Medal in 1979.

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Before The 39 Clues…

… there was a little book entitled The Westing Game. And although they were written 20 years apart, The Westing Game still trumps The 39 Clues big-time.


(I wasn’t able to finish the book I am reading (From Charlie’s Point of View) because I was busy sorting books and squee-ing because of my latest book hoard, so let me share one of my favorite books instead.)

Winner of the 1979 Newbery Medal, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game is a book I’ve read more times than I can count — I remember a few times I actually read it twice in one day. I’ve also run through 4 different editions of the book — mass market, Puffin Modern Classic, trade paperback, and finally, a hardcover I found at Book Sale last year. It’s original, intelligent and entertaining, and a brilliant whodunit to boot!

Sixteen different people — of different ethnicities, and of no apparent relationship to one another except that all of them either live or work in the same apartment building — are summoned for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will.

All 16 of them are surprised to find out they are heirs to the Westing fortune — Sam Westing is the founder of Westingtown, Wisconsin, and owner of Westing Paper Products. The catch? The will is a contest: one of the heirs has murdered Sam Westing, and whoever finds the culprit will be the heir to strike it rich.

The heirs are a crazy and spirited bunch, among them:

James Shin Hoo, owner of a Chinese restaurant, also an inventor;
Madame Sun Lin Hoo, Shin Hoo’s wife, imported from China;
Doug Hoo, a track and field athlete;
Christos Theodorakis, a kid confined to his wheelchair and an avid birdwatcher;
Theo Theodorakis, Chris’ brother, a high school student, pal of Doug Hoo;
Dr. Jake Wexler, podiatrist;
Grace Windsor Wexler, Dr. Wexler’s idle wife;
Turtle Wexler, the Wexlers’ smart aleck younger daughter;
Angela Wexler, the Wexler family beauty, engaged to be married to
Dr. Denton Deere, an intern;
Flora Baumbach, a dressmaker;
Alexander McSouthers, the apartment’s doorman;
Josie-Jo Ford, a judge;
Berthe Crow, the cleaning lady;
Otis Amber, the messenger;
and Sydelle Pulaski, a secretary.
The characters are full of little quirks that make them all interesting and endearing, and they plod through blizzards, burglaries and bombings in deciphering the clues to get the family fortune. I also like that the female characters in the book are feisty and liberated (or gain liberation along the way). Turtle Wexler rocks!

What’s fun about this book is that it will keep you guessing, with a variety of imaginative puzzles you can solve together with and the characters… and then wham! Revelations throughout the book will make you doubt your original guess. And just when you’re ready to give your final answer… bam! Raskin turns everything around with a twisty plot!

I am getting worked up just talking about it, hahaha. I just love this book :)

My copy: hardcover with dust jacket, plus a trade paperback for lending and rereading

My rating: 5/5 stars