Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Category: Authors R (page 1 of 10)

Getting hygge…

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

DanishlyThis was our book group’s read for January, chosen when our of our group had just come back from Copenhagen enthusiastic to learn more about the Danish way of life. The whole group enjoyed reading it – it’s very easy and the author has a nice line in self-deprecation. We also found plenty to discuss.

Helen Russell was a journalist for one of the women’s glossy magazines when her husband was offered a year’s contract to work for Lego at their HQ in Billund on Jutland. He was keen, and Helen knowing that they wanted to plan a family decided she could make a go of going freelance.  So off they went arriving in the depths of winter in what feels like a ghost town. Billund is famous for two things – Lego and having Denmark’s second largest airport (because of Legoland), otherwise situated as it is in the rural heartland of Jutland, it’s rather looked down upon by the more cosmopolitan capital.

Helen and ‘Lego Man’ as she calls her husband, ask where all the people are?  ‘They’re getting hygge,’ she’s informed by a cultural integration coach she consults.  ‘It’s a private, family time in Denmark and everyone hides behind their front doors. Danes are very wrapped up – literally and metaphorically – from November until February, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see many people out and about, especially in rural areas.’

Hunkering down and getting cosy in candlelight (a big hygge feature) with family for three months which peak at just under 8 hours daylight struck many of us as like an overlong Christmas holiday – too much time for family arguments and feuds to develop.

One thing that came through very clearly in this book was that Danes love, and I mean really love, rules. From not being served in an empty shop until she’d taken a ticket, to an hilarious episode when they wanted to fly a Union Jack – there are rules for everything.  The Danes work hard – but only for a very short working week – staying late is just not on.  The lowliest workers are paid a decent wage which encourages them to excel at their jobs, (one reason why a meal at Noma will cost a fortune). Their taxes are also very high  but everyone is happy to pay them because they are so well looked after. The Danes are also a pragmatic race – if a relationship isn’t working out they can divorce easily – they have a high divorce rate but lots of rules to get through it without fighting.

Talking of fighting though, Helen finds out that the Danes turn out to be a rather violent people.  Men fight men, women fight women, men fight women and women even fight men sometimes. As one of Helen’s contacts says, ‘We are Vikings.’  Viking culture is still very macho and alcohol-fueled and Helen confesses, ‘This glimpse of the darker side of life in Denmark has made me feel a little lost.’  She had been asking every Dane she consulted about their happiness rating – most said 9 or 10 out of 10, an 8 is rare and I can’t remember a single lower rating in the entire book. Questioned like that, the Danes seem extremely happy, but there are obviously unhappy undercurrents – some of which have recently come to the fore with the right-wing government pushing through legislation to seize refugee’s assets and make immigration stricter.

Another intriguing section dealt with the Danes’ attitudes towards animals – they are remarkably unsentimental.  You may remember an outcry a couple of years ago when they put down an otherwise healthy giraffe who wasn’t suitable for breeding, rather than sell him to a sub-standard zoo or institution.  The Danes went one step further:

So on 9 February 2014, the young giraffe was given a last meal of some quintessentially Danish rye bread before being shot in the head with a bolt gun. All in front of an audience of zoo visitors. After this, staff conducted a public autopsy, enthusiastically attended by crowds of Danish children and their parents curious to see the inner workings of the creature. Marius was dissected and fed to the lions – again, in full view of all who cared to watch.

There aren’t many vegetarians in Denmark.

Given that the subtitle of this book alludes to Denmark’s status as the world’s happiest country, I’ve unwittingly tended to dwell on the less positive (to us anyway) aspects of Danish life above. As well as her serious look about how Denmark works as a country, between the covers of this book are many lovely and fun moments – from the joy of eating real Danish pastries to dancing cows, Lego (of course) to Danish design, and not forgetting adult night at the local swimming baths!  As for what happens at the end of their year, I can’t tell. This book is a lovely blend of memoir and reportage told with wit and I can thoroughly recommend it. (9/10)

To round off our discussion we went around the table saying whether we’d like to live in Denmark. It was around 50/50. I’d love to visit Copenhagen, but I’d get cabin fever in the dark winter and pickled herrings rather put me off the idea of living there. However, I really ought to catch up with The Bridge which seems to be universally loved, but I’ve not had time for.

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Source: Own copy.

Helen Russell, The Year of Living Danishly (Icon Books, 2015).  Paperback, 354 pages.

My Best Reads of 2015

Last year I split my best of list in two – the Shiny edition and the Blog edition. I read just as many books this year as last (127) and awarded 17 of them 9.5 or 10 stars at the time of review, but I’ve decided to have just one list this time with a baker’s dozen choices,  mixing old and new titles, blog and Shiny reviews.  As always, the links will take you back to the original review.

Best evocation of 1960s London

arnottThe Long Firm by Jake Arnott

This violent story-cycle about a bipolar gay gangster is primarily set in and around Soho of the 1960s and it’s pitch-perfect in its seedy detail. Five episodes from the life of Harry Stark, each told by a different narrator – from the unhappy peer Lord Thursby to the speed-addicted Jack the Hat and Ruby Ryder the tart with a heart, the picture they build up of Harry is of a complicated character.


Best YA novel

grasshopper-jungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I nearly gave this award to Marcus Sedgwick for his masterful linked story cycle The Ghosts of Heaven, but Grasshopper Jungle with its coming of age story set in a world newly invaded by mutant six foot tall praying mantises was just so fresh and immediate. It was thought-provoking too whilst entertaining us in a horror mode that recalls Charlie Higson’s zombie novels. Fantastic stuff for mid-teens upwards.


Best Comic Thriller

hackHack by Kieran Crowley

This thriller by crime journalist Crowley had me laughing all the way through with its hilarious wisecracks while a serial killer was at work in New York.  From the moment a pet-columnist is mistakenly sent to a crime-scene because there’s a dog guarding the body, you know you’re in for an entertaining and suspenseful read. The funniest crime novel I’ve read since I discovered Christopher Brookmyre.


Best Book that Made Me Cry

instrumental james rhodesInstrumental by James Rhodes

Several books I’ve read this year made me cry – including that disappointing doorstop  and some tough lit for teens, but the book that dissolved me into a weeping heap was a memoir. Instrumental is a candid account of horrific child-abuse and its lasting effects in the injuries, shame, anger, breakdown, self-harm, OCD, addiction and more that followed. However, it may sound glib but isn’t, this book is also about the healing power of music and how Rhodes harnessed it to make a life for himself as a classical pianist.  Horrific yet hopeful, it’s a tough read but an important one.


Best Technicolor Cover

hotel arcadiaHotel Arcadia by Sunny Singh

This literary thriller grabbed me from page 1 and didn’t let go until I’d finished.  It’s premise is very simple – a group of terrorists storm the Hotel Arcadia, systematically hunting down the guests and murdering them – we never find out why. We see what happens through the eyes of just two people: Abhi, one of the hotel managers and Sam, a guest who happens to be a war-photographer, both of whom escape the initial purge. Full of authentic detail and perfectly balanced between Abhi and Sam, this is a suspenseful and affecting read.


Best New to Me Crime Series

spring-tideSpring Tide by Cilla and Rolf Borjlind

The husband and wife team behind Scandi-TV hits Arne Dahl etc. have diversified into crime novels featuring an odd couple of investigators – Olivia Ronning is a trainee police officer and Tom Stilton a dropped-out one, a former inspector.  Combining solving a cold case alongside current ones that together expose the underbelly of Stockholm in both high and low places, this pair make a rather interesting new team. The follow-up novel Third Voice was also brilliant.


Best Book from the TBR I’ve Owned the Longest

My original first UK paperback edition (Minerva 1994)

The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury

Why this book sat for 21 years in my TBR piles, I’ll never work out, but once a new edition piqued my interest, I read it and was blown away by this tale of small-town America following the lives and loves of the fictional Grouse County, Iowa. The novel is driven by the conversations between the characters, finding its drama there rather than in action. The dialogue, coupled with deadpan observational detail draws you in totally. I now want to read everything Drury has written.


Young God

Best New Voice

Young God by Katherine Faw Morris

I have Elle to thank for this recommendation. Brutal, sparse and shocking, this coming of age novel is maybe the darkest I’ve ever read – but I loved it. Teenager Nikki’s story is told in short chapters, sort of vignettes – some only a line or two long, others stretching to a couple of pages. Drugs, underage prostitution, guns, trailer-park living. The author never attempts to make us like or judge Nikki, she just tells it like it is in a triumph of understatement.


Best Science Book

Spirals-in-Time-small-440x704Spirals in Time by Helen Scales

Cedric Villani, the flamboyant French mathematician deserves a mention for making equations sexy in his book Birth of a Theorem, but marine biologist Scales’s volume about molluscs was delightful – combining natural history with folklore and the seashell’s place in culture – a perfect mixture to captivate the reader. She tells her stories with such enthusiasm for the subject, explaining clearly with a great sense of humour,  drawing vivid pictures of these marvelous creatures in her words, making the book accessible to a wider audience.


Best Book About Books

Clive James Latest ReadingsLatest Readings by Clive James

James, bless him, is still alive despite having personally believed he’d be dead of the cancer afflicting him by now. He’s still reading furiously and luckily for us, writing about it. This book of essays about what he’s been reading is inspirational, funny, full of facts and detail about the titles and authors covered, all delivered with deadpan wit and a life’s experience – yet he hasn’t lost the joy of discovery of new books. Lovely.


Best Human Story About the Thrill of Space

Last-Pilot-cover-RGB-667x1024 The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

Anyone who has ever been enthralled by reading or seeing the film of The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s seminal story of the USA’s quest to break the sound barrier and the early days of NASA and the space programme, will realise that beyond the technological marvels, the successes, and the failures, is a human story. These pioneering heroes had wives and families, friends and colleagues, who are left behind every flight, every launch, wondering if their man will come home. The Last Pilot is a novel about one such human story, that of a fictional family set amongst the real life test pilots and astronauts, and their story blends seamlessly into that of history. A magnificent debut, and so close to being my book of the year.


BOOK OF THE YEAR

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

fuller
When I reviewed this back in March (Shiny review here,  companion blog piece here), I said this was the best thing I’d read so far this year. It remained my favourite book all year and chose itself as my book of the year.  Fuller’s novel has a dual timeline alternating between her protagonist Peggy being seventeen living with her mother and nine, when her father took her to live in the woods, saying that her mother was dead. It is as dark as any of Grimms’ fairy tales and the suspense of some of the cliffhangers throughout is nearly unbearable. There is lightness too and the whole resonates with the tinkling of bells with Liszt’s La Campanella running through the narrative.  An amazingly debut novel – I can’t wait for Claire’s next one.

The paperback is published today as it happens, and I urge you to go and buy a copy if you’ve not read it already,

Branagh at the Garrick – Rattigan double-bill

I went to see Kenneth Branagh’s new theatre company perform a double-bill of one-act plays by Terence Rattigan last night. The two plays, Harlequinade from the 1940s when Rattigan was at his critical peak, and All On Her Own, a twenty minute monologue originally produced as a radio play in 1968,  were performed back to back with no interval and lasted just 100 minutes – we were home well before 11pm!

My daughter and I spent the whole drizzly day in London, first going to Camden – where we ate street food for lunch followed by a nitro ice-cream from Chin Chin Labs (the smoothest ice-cream I’ve ever tasted, frozen on the spot with liquid nitrogen), then on to Oxford Street (meh!) and Covent Garden and the London Graphics Centre (yay, pen heaven!), before a pre-theatre burger at the original Ed’s Diner at the end of Old Compton St.  A quick view of the tree in Trafalgar Square and a brief foray into Waterstones there until the theatre doors opened saved waiting in the drizzle, but didn’t help our by now very tired feet.  And so, to the theatre…

All On Her Own – starring Zoe Wanamaker

It’s hard to believe, but Wanamaker is now 66, but still looks twenty years younger! She was the perfect casting to play Margaret Hodge, the middle-aged widow in her empty nest in Hampstead. This short play was very reminiscent in style of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads – some great comic one-lines, but underlined by tragedy and with a sting in the tale.

Margaret arrives home after a party, attacks the whisky decanter with obvious relish, before starting to talk to her dead husband, who had died on the sofa one night after she had gone to bed. She pretends to be her late husband, putting on a deeper Yorkshire-ish voice and a bit of a swagger to reply to her questions the way she thinks he would have.  Guilt and grief overwhelm her …

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

I hadn’t realised that this short play was such a serious piece, but Wanamaker pulled off this ‘duologue’ marvelously, movingly. At the end she was left staring into space when the curtain came down – taking her bows after the second play.

Harlequinade

HARLEQUINADE by Rattigan, , Writer - Terance Ratigan, Directors - Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford, Set and Costume - Christopher Oram, Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

Kenneth Branagh and Miranda Raison. Credit: Johan Persson/

The play itself was preceded by a short film projected onto the safety curtain explaining the role of CEMA after the war. The forerunner of the Arts Council, CEMA was the ‘Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts’, bringing theatre to the masses after the war. Harlequinade follows one theatre company as they’re putting finishing touches on their production of Romeo & Juliet, opening later that night in a midlands theatre. The company actor-manager is Arthur Gosport (Branagh) who will play Romeo opposite his wife, Edna (Miranda Raison) – and the farce starts right from the outset, as the middle-aged Arthur decides, for the first time in seventeen years, to add a little jump up onto the bench to illustrate his youth as he spies Juliet (very Debbie McGee-like) on her balcony.

Branagh shows exquisite comic timing, and some truly excellent wig-work throughout, putting on his well-honed Gilderoy Lockhart luvvie persona. There are splendid supporting turns from John Shrapel, (also exhibiting outstanding wig-work), Hadley Fraser as the second halbardier, and Wanamaker again as tipsy Aunt Maud (Nurse) who keeps offering acting advice to Edna.

HARLEQUINADE by Rattigan, , Writer - Terance Ratigan, Directors - Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford, Set and Costume - Christopher Oram, Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

Tom Bateman and Hadley Fraser, Credit: Johan Persson/

The glue that holds this play together though is the stage manager Jack Wakefield, played by Tom Bateman with an increasingly Basil Fawlty-like air of desperation as things go wrong.

This being a farce, there is mistaken identity, people bursting in in all the wrong places, ultimatums, shock revelations, not to mention a hilarious sword-fight with a Tybalt clearly modelled on Blackadder’s Lord Flasheart, not to mention Arthur’s ideas for improving Romeo’s death scene.  The set is suitably ramshackle for a provincial touring production and there’s great fun with the lighting too.

We were at the end of Row D and could see all the actors’ facial expressions writ-large. Branagh, Wanamaker, Shrapnel and their ilk make it seem effortless.

I laughed like a drain.

‘What has life got to do with the theatre?’  Rattigan shows us in this affectionate farce that life is theatre!!!

Shiny Linkiness

I reviewed loads of new fiction titles for Issue 7 of Shiny New Books, so I think it’s time to give some of them a plug. Do pop over to read the full reviews – we’d appreciate it, and love it when you leave comments too (same goes for here of course).

Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

two_years_eight_month_and_twentyeight_nights_0I haven’t read any Rushdie for a while, so had my fingers crossed with this book. No need, I enjoyed it a lot, although it turned to be more a philosophical fantasy than I was expecting.  Entering the world of the jinn was fascinating, and Rushdie’s modern take on the 1001 nights was fun although the little digressions keep you on your toes to re-find the main story sometimes.

Rushdie at his most playful, and restrained in length too. Definitely a thinking person’s fairy tale.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

hrbekHrbek has written one other novel, The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly, which I had to order once I’d read this book.

Set around twenty years into the future, Not on Fire, but Burning starts with a stunning visual prologue in which the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed, and San Francisco is irradiated – (we’re never sure by whom or what). It then settles into a disturbing story in which the USA is segregating Muslims and one brave old army veteran decides to adopt a Muslim kid from one of the camps – to do his bit for liberalism and making amends. He doesn’t realise that the twelve-year-old boy, Karim, who comes to live with him is already radicalised.  When a fight is engineered between white kid Dorian next door and Karim, it starts off a whole chain reaction of events.

This was a really thought-provoking novel that imagines possible futures that we hope will never happen.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

kauthar-195x300 (1)Meike’s third novel Kauthar is another tale of radicalisation. It is about a white British girl who converts to Islam, marries and Iraqi doctor, following him out there after 9/11 only to find that life there has a different set of rules and expectations that will try her devoutness. In emotional turmoil, she turns to God, but the distorted answers she finds set her on an extreme path.

Full of strong imagery, we flip between Lydia as a child, who is desperate to be a gymnast and the devout Kauthar she becomes. Told in the present tense, it is very immediate and we are really taken into Kauthar’s mind. As in Meike’s first novel Magda we are helped to understand, without condoning her behaviour.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

wilckenIt’s the late 1940s, or early 1950s. A psychiatrist takes a phone call to be told his ex-wife has died. A while later, he’s called on as a police surgeon to section a man in custody in a seedy apartment. Not thinking straight he does as asked, but later regrets this and sets out to find out more about the man.

The Reflection has all the hallmarks of a classic noir novel: a narrator in crisis, a psychological drama, a femme fatale (or two), a whole string of coincidences that are anything but and a sense that everything is being stage-managed to turn the protagonist into one of his patients, which he must resist, whatever the cost. The main character was a little boring but, The Reflection is an interesting exercise in which nothing is actually in black and white, less noir, more grey.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

Such good cheesy fun

Emperor Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer

emperor-fu-manchuBeing a huge fan of adventure and James Bond type novels, you might expect me to have read the Fu-Manchu books too, but somehow I never did. Until now – and having read this one, which happens to be the penultimate book of the series, I want to go back to the beginning and read the lot.

Sax Rohmer was the pen-name of a former civil servant from Birmingham called Arthur Henry Ward. He turned to writing in his twenties and published his first Fu-Manchu story in a magazine in 1912 becoming very popular in the 1920s & 30s.  He wrote fourteen Fu-Manchu books in total, from that date until his death in 1959. Emperor Fu-Manchu is the last full novel, the final book in the series being a collection of shorter stories previously published.

Dr. Fu-Manchu is the archetype of the evil genius, and is surely the inspiration behind Dr No.  Fu-Manchu is an Oriental megalomaniac scientist who uses fantastical means to achieve his ends. He was created as a response to the perceived threat to the West of Chinese domination, which as you may imagine was controversial even at the time, and by our modern standards quite politically incorrect.

As the books go on, the political stance changes, and by Emperor Fu-Manchu he shares a common enemy with West – the Communists. Of course Fu-Manchu’s way of going about ridding the world of them, with his organisation the Si-Fan, is more akin to the aims for global domination of SMERSH/SPECTRE in the Bond novels and films, than that of the Western establishments.

Of course every evil genius has to have the authorities constantly on his tail. The British spymaster in charge is Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, who despite getting on in age in the later books, appears to have lost none of his faculties and be as sprightly as ever he was. Nayland-Smith is clearly inspired by Sherlock Holmes, and has his own version of Watson in the early novels.  In this late novel, as it starts he is instructing an American agent born in Hong Kong named Tony McKay that he will work with about his role in the mission. McKay, who can pass for Chinese is to penetrate the ‘second Bamboo Curtain’ to confirm that ‘The Master’ deep in the province of Szechuan is Dr Fu-Manchu.

“There’s some number one top secret being hidden in Szechuan. Miltary Intelligence thinks it’s a Soviet project. I believe it’s a Fu-Manchu project. He may be playing the Soviets at their own game. Dr. Fu-Manchu has no more use for Communism than I have for Asiatic flu. But so far all attempts to solve the puzzle have come apart. Local agents are only of limited use, but you may find them helpful and they’ll be looking out for  you. You’ll have the sign and countersigns. Dine with me tonight and I’ll give you a thorough briefing.” (p12)

No sooner does McKay infiltrate his way towards the Russian ‘leprosy centre’ posing as a fisherman looking for his missing fiancée, than he ends up in a Chinese cell. While nearby, the new governor of the province is meeting his old friend, ‘The Master’…

The man seated there wore a loose yellow robe. His elbows rested on the desk, and his fingers – long, yellow fingers – were pressed together; he might have reminded an observer of a praying mantis. He had the high brow of a philosopher and features suggesting great intellectual power. This aura of mental force seemed to be projected by his eyes, which were of a singular green color. As he stared before him as if at some distant vision, from time to time his eyes filmed over in an extraordinary manner.
The room, in which there lingered a faint, sickly smell of opium, was completely silent. (p18)

I’m not going to expound on the plot much further, suffice to say that Nayland-Smith’s local agents free McKay who escapes to a nearby moored sampan only to discover a girl on board, also hiding. At first he’s not sure he can trust Yueh Hua – but of course he falls for her. There’s lots of back and forth between various safe houses of friends of Nayland-Smith, who pops up all over the place, as they try to find out more about the army of ‘Cold Men’ that Fu-Manchu has working for him as his private army. Essentially frozen zombies, this introduces the mad scientist with a fantastical process to reanimate corpses element to the story. There is spying, fighting, capture, escape, romance and more as Nayland-Smith and colleagues try destroy the top secret Soviet centre before Fu-Manchu can get his hands on it.

Fu-Manchu and Nayland-Smith made fascinating adversaries – and the strangest thing was that both were men of their word, neither will lie to each other. This means that some things cannot be said and McKay has to keep Nayland-Smith in the dark on one matter, because McKay knows that Nayland-Smith would feel compelled to tell Fu-Manchu if he knew. Honour amongst thieves and spies eh!

These books were written in English by an Englishman. The new editions are global but made in America, and some Americanisms have crept in to spellings, e.g. color, etc. While this is annoying, you don’t really notice it once hooked by the plot. It is great to have the full set nearly back in print (one more to come), and I enjoyed the fun cheesiness of this adventure a lot. (8.5/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you.

Sax Rohmer, Emperor Fu-Manchu (1959). Titan books paperback, 2015, 240 pages.

The Newbery Medal winner from 1979

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

westing gameOne of the boxes on my BookBingo Card is ‘A Newbery or Caldecott winner’.  These are roughly the US equivalents of the UK’s Carnegie and Greenaway Medals, awarded annually by librarians to the best novel and illustrated book for children.  I found I had a copy of The Westing Game on my children’s shelf, I’d obviously been recommended it for my daughter years ago – but now she’s 15, it’s YA all the way so she’ll never read this, but it was a timely discovery for me.

The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!

Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers. This glittery, glassy apartment house stood alone on the Lake Michigan shore five stories high. Five empty stories high.

Then one day (it happened to be the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chosen tenants-to-be. The letters were signed Barney Northrup.

The delivery boy was sixty-two years old, and there was no such person as Barney Northrup.

The chosen ones all decide to move in.
Some months later, some of the children of the tenants are out playing on their bikes, and they see smoke coming from the chimney of the Westing house on the hill. Otis Amber, the 62-year-old delivery boy, tells them a tall tale of how old man Westing’s body is:

“…sprawled out on a fancy Oriental rug, and his flesh is rotting off those mean bones, and maggots are creeping in his eye sockets and crawling out his nose holes.” The delivery boy added a high-pitched he-he-he to the gruesome details.

Naturally, one of the kids gets dared to enter the house an Halloween at $2 a minute… Turtle lasts eleven minutes before running out screaming. She discovered a corpse tucked in a four-poster bed.

This mysteriously puts old man Westing’s will into action. He was a millionaire who had made his fortune in paper towels. The sixteen people invited to gather in the Westing house comprise members from families of the chosen tenants of Sunset Towers. Westing’s will challenges them to play a game to unmask his murderer. The sixteen are paired up and given $10,000 incentive to play. The winning pair will inherit his fortune. The pairs are all given different sets of clues which are all single words. Thus begins a madcap competition between the players to find out each others’ clues and solve the mystery.

The 16 heirs are an odd assortment, including the Sunset Towers cleaner and doorman, Alice ‘Turtle’ Wexler, a very intelligent girl aged 13 who is prone to kicking people’s shins, her older sister Angela, her mother Grace and Angela’s fiance Dr Denton Deer, plus a high court judge, the owner of the penthouse Chinese restaurant in Sunset Towers, Otis the 62-yr-old delivery boy and a couple of others – their connections to Mr Westing will be revealed as the book goes on.

The players are gathered together again some weeks later to give their answers – and get another surprise, which I won’t spoil. The closing chapters concentrate on what happened next and
how the lives of the heirs were affected by playing the game.

This was a fun read – it would have been even more fun if I had realised where all the clues emanated from – being an American novel, I imagine that the average American eleven year old would probably start to recognise the source of the clues long before it is revealed in the text, so this element went straight over my head!

The Westing Game did remind me of a book long out of print that I’d love to read – one of my father’s favourites – The Tontine by Thomas B. Costain – a two volume, 1000 page, Regency/Victorian epic about a lottery in which the last living participant wins the jackpot.  Obviously, The Westing Game is a children’s book, so no-one had to die!  (7/10)

* * * * *
Source: Own copy.  
Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game (Puffin Classics US, 1978), paperback, 182 pages.

The Westing Game (Puffin Classics)

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