It's not what you have, it's what you don't have that counts.A murder-mystery epic Newbery Award winning novel by Ellen Raskin about sixteen heirs who compete to win a $200 million inheritance from the late Samuel W. Westing. Westing, for his own reasons, has set up a game of his own, set in a very large, cushy building where the heirs and their families are basically trapped into staying; the only clues he gives the players are seemingly nonsensical words printed on paper towel squares. Figure out the clues and the answer should be obvious... but maybe not.
This book contains examples of:
Adapted Out: The 1997 TV movie lacks four characters (pairing Turtle with Chris as a result) and also changed some of the remaining heirs' personalities and motivations.
Arranged Marriage: The subtext behind Angela Wexler and Dr. Denton Deere's engagement is that Grace hand-picked a brilliant doctor for her perfect daughter, who went along with it because she's The Good Daughter. It's outright stated that Westing's wife Crow did the same thing with her daughter and a politician, which led to the daughter's suicide.
Batman Gambit: The "trial" to prove Crow's innocence in both Westing and Sandy's deaths is actually an attempt by Turtle to gather all the information she needs to win the game. Ford eventually realizes this, but as she isn't privy to all the clues or Turtle's thoughts she isn't able to figure out what Turtle does.
Brick Joke: Sydelle breaks her leg (again) just in time to attend the heirs' reunion on crutches.
Flora Baumbach's car's hood also comes open in traffic, a few pages after another heir follows a (false) lead to check under the hoods of the vehicles in Sunset Towers' parking lot. Guess they didn't secure Flora's properly afterwards.
Jake Wexler, the podiatrist, is also a bookie, though this is only mentioned in passing once or twice. At the end of the book, Ford pulls strings to have him appointed to a government panel determining whether to set up a state lottery. The epilogues reveal that he later becomes State Gambling Commissioner, and finally the state crime commissioner.
Call to Adventure: The whole plot gets kicked off, after everyone has moved into Sunset Towers, by Otis Amber, prompted by Sandy/Westing, telling Turtle, Theo, and Doug the "ghost story" about the Westing House, thus encouraging them to go explore it and find Westing.
Captain Obvious: Sydelle, when trying to get someone to admit to being a twin.
Cassandra Truth: "It's not what you have, it's what you don't have that counts." No one even thinks about that until the final meeting, and they still misinterpret it, and yet it was completely accurate. The goal of the Westing Game was to deduce the fourth alias used by Sam Westing. Three of them were known acquaintances of all the players, although the players didn't know those people were alter egos of Sam's. Once the winner of the game figured out what the real goal was, it was very easy.
Catch Phrase: Otis Amber exclaims "Boom!" at random times to scare people after the first two bombings.
Chess Motifs: Judge Ford recalls that during her final chess game with Sam Westing, he tricked her into letting him checkmate by giving her the opportunity to take his queen. She later draws a parallel between the "Queen's Sacrifice" and the Westing Game, since exposing Crow as a murderer would distract most of the heirs from the real objective.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Invoked in-story by Sydelle, who always paints her crutches to match her clothing as a form of attention. Played for particular relevance when she dressed in the colors of the U.S. flag to sing "America the Beautiful".
Contrived Coincidence: The reason Otis Amber was put on the Westing case (not once, but three times, once in the Backstory!) is because his name was the second listed in the phone book under private investigators and the first name's phone was busy. Maybe—Ford and Westing (the first time) may have picked him in this way, but as Northrup he knew exactly who Amber was.
Invoked in Judge Ford's case, as she's shown noticing something unexpected in the phone book's listings when she sets out to research the heirs. Presumably Westing knew she'd recognize Otis's name, and anticipated she'd hire him for that very reason!
The Coroner: Sikes, who is an important accomplice to Westing's scheme.
Death by Newbery Medal: Turtle has to face death: first by finding Westing's dead body, then by witnessing the fatal collapse of her doorman friend Sandy, and finally (as a grown woman) by staying at the bedside of dying Mr. Eastman. The book is a very convoluted puzzle-mystery; all three are the same man, who'd faked his death twice.
The deaths of James Hoo, Berthe Crow, and Otis Amber are mentioned as well, during the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue. They all died of old age, and not much emotional hay is made of their passing.
Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Prior to the final meeting of the game, Jake and Grace Wexler fill out their forms under the influence of alcohol, causing Jake to list his position as "bookie" and Grace to include her Embarrassing Middle Name. Or so they assume. It's possible that Sandy altered their forms.
Do Not Pass Go: There's a message left like this by Westing when the person in charge of opening the envelopes with his messages inside is late in opening the next envelope. It essentially tells the players where to go with the addition of, "Do not collect $200."
Embarrassing Middle Name: Grace Wexler has a tendency to list her maiden name as "Windsor" instead of "Windkloppel." Sam Westing also had "Windkloppel" as his last name before he changed it for commercial reasons
Eureka Moment: Turtle has a very quiet one during the trial. There were also earlier examples, such as Sydelle realizing the clue words formed "America the Beautiful" and Ford realizing Westing had played them with the "Queen's Sacrifice". Numerous Red Herring examples occur also as the various pairs have "breakthroughs" with their clues that they think are the answer. (Examples: "Ed Purple-fruit!", Turtle thinking the clues are the names of stock options they should invest in, Theo thinking the clues form Amber's name and the chemical formula for an explosive...)
Flat Character: Mr. and Mrs. Theodorakis, who barely appear and, outside one Backstory conversation, have hardly any lines.
Gainax Ending: There is absolutely no one who manages to figure out all of what just happened the first time around.
Some did. It's all spelled out in the book, from Ford's debt to Sandy yelling "Ashes" to the fireworks and the candles. It's just a matter of paying attention.
Game Between Heirs: The main premise. Samuel W. Westing chose sixteen people apparently at random as his heirs; the book opens with them summoned to hear the reading of the will. He leaves everything to the winner of the puzzle he calls The Westing Game. Who will win?
The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Subverted; Turtle and Angela seem to be the textbook Smart One and Popular One, respectively, but they're closer to each other and probably understand each other better than anyone else, and Turtle probably has more friends than Angela, while Angela is very smart herself.
Turtle is the only character (except for Westing) who works out that Angela was the bomber after Angela pulls an about-to-explode bomb away from Turtle and towards her own face. Turtle then claims to be the bomber to protect Angela (which is what everyone else thought anyway), going as far as to plant the fourth bomb.
Incredibly Lame Pun: Grace Wexler creates one when she decides to rename James Hoo's restaurant "Hoo's On First". James understandably complains that his restaurant is on the top floor of the tower, and that people who come looking for Hoo's On First might just assume that the Theodorakis coffee shop (which actually is in the lobby) is it.
Irony: For the entire book, Grace claims she is the only true heir of Sam Westing. With her maiden/middle name having been "Windkloppel", the same as Westing's real name, it seems she, and by extension Angela and Turtle, are the only actual blood relatives among the heirs. (In fact, Westing/Sandy/Eastman calls Grace "my niece" during the epilogue.)
It's the Journey That Counts: Although no one wins the game or inherits the fortune (except Turtle), everyone's lives become better for having been part of it and the Character Development they gained from it. As Chris said of the Odd Couple pairings, "Everyone was paired with the perfect partner, given exactly who they needed" though they didn't know it at the start.
The Judge: Josie-Jo Ford, who in the book is identified as the first female and/or black person elected to a judgeship in the state.
And possibly the first black woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court, according to the epilogue.
Madness Mantra: "purple waves" supposedly was for the ghost story told at the start of the book.
Meaningful Name: "I am Berthe Erica Crow. I am the answer and I am the winner." Also, Windy Windkloppel and his various aliases scattering to the four winds... WESTing, NORTHrup, EASTman, and McSOUTHers.
Missed the Call: Sybil Pulaski was the intended heir, but the PI screwed up and found Sydelle Pulaski instead.
Nonindicative Name: The windows of the heirs' apartments at Sunset Towers face east, the direction in which the sun rises.
Not So Stoic: J.J. Ford deliberately embraces this trope so people will take her seriously.
One Degree of Separation: While at first it seems none of the heirs have anything in common, or even a reason to be heirs, it turns out every character or their family does have a connection to the Westings. Grace and her family are actually related; Theo and Chris's father dated Violet Westing; Flora Baumbach made her wedding dress; Ford's family worked for Westing and he put her through school; Hoo was a competitor who blamed Westing for stealing his invention; Crow was his wife; Amber had worked for him as a detective; Sandy supposedly worked at the Westing factory; and Sybil Pulaski, for whom Sydelle was confused, was a friend of Crow's.
Only Sane Man: Ed Plum seems to think he's this when compared to the heirs, particularly when Ford and Turtle call their gathering a "court" to which he must submit the rest of the will before fleeing Sunset Towers. Among the heirs, Dr. Deere often acts like he's this; if anyone actually is, though, it's Judge Ford.
Rear Window Witness: Not a crime, but Chris is a witness to Sikes going into the Westing House just before Westing's body is discovered, thanks to his bird-watching.
Red Herring: A number of them many planted by Sandy/Westing himself.
Running Gag: Many, such as Dr. Deere incorrectly and/or sententiously diagnosing people's illnesses, Sydelle's crutches, "Boom!", Turtle kicking shins, "Windkloppel"...and almost every one ended up being relevant and important!
Scare Dare: Turtle accepts one to stay overnight in the Westing mansion.
Small Reference Pools: Used by the characters; except for one joke vote, everyone thinks the quote "May God thy gold refine" comes from either Shakespeare or the Bible. It's actually from a lesser-known verse of "America the Beautiful", and is a clue.
Spotting the Thread: Sandy's limp, when Turtle knew she had never kicked him gave away he was actually Barney Northrup.
Also, when Theo has Doug spy on the chessboard for him to learn that his secret opponent is actually Sandy. Not only is this fact in and of itself strange since Sandy had claimed not to know how to play the game, but Theo's supposed winning move is actually Westing's classic "Queen's Sacrifice", thus letting Ford realize who Sandy was.
Stealth Pun: As each heir fills out forms prior to the reading of the will, Jake Wexler lists his "position" as "standing or sitting when not lying down."
Many of the wrong answers which the teams submit or investigate were reached under the assumption that the clues contained a Stealth Pun (e.g. "Ed Purple-Fruit"). Subverted in that these all turned out to be wrong. The real pun is in the compass point naming schemes..
Sticky Fingers: Madame Hoo steals random objects from other heirs in hopes of raising money for a return to China. In a possible Crowning Moment of Funny and/or Heartwarming, she confesses in the middle of Turtle's trial (she thought the meeting had to do with plans to capture her) and returns the things she stole.
Taking the Heat: The bomber was Angela, but Turtle willingly takes the blame to protect her sister.
The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Subverted, though, because the man who recorded the tape (well, in this case wrote the letter) was also the man who provided the convenient interruption, and he did it specifically to break up the flow of the message to obscure a clue. Played straight at several other moments, however.
"Sit down, Grace Windsor Wexler!"
"Sit down, your honor, and read the letter this brilliant young attorney will now hand over to you."
Themed Aliases: The big reveal surrounds someone's aliases selected by this trope: the eponymous Mr. Westing was one of four aliases all with names containing a cardinal direction.
Theme Naming: turns out to be a plot point. Everyone knows that the Eccentric Millionaire Sam Westing was born Windy Windkloppel. Sandy McSouthers was one of the potential heirs and contestants in the game, and Barney Northrup was the landlord of the building all the contestants lived in. The winner of the game is the first person to realize that they should be looking for someone with the word "east" in their name.
Unfortunate Name: Windkloppel, which neither Grace Wexler nor Sam Westing cared to admit to. Ed Plum's otherwise-inoffensive name gets him singled out as a suspect by one of the teams.
The Unreveal: During the reading of the will, Sandy McSouthers makes a joke, cutting off the lawyer before the last word in the third section is read. We never do find out what the last word is... because there is no last word; the will only reads, "The one who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the... FOURTH;" referring to the fourth identity of Westing himself.
A more minor one: the cross necklace Turtle takes with her to ward away vampires when she explores the Westing House gets lost and left behind; as a result it's later assumed to be one of the items stolen byMadame Hoo. Turtle sees it, inexplicably, held in the hands of Westing's corpse at the reading of the will, but no one else notices it. It's never mentioned in the article about the discovery of Westing's body, and after it being noted as not among the returned items, it's forgotten about completely.
What an Idiot: Invoked in-story, and self-inflicted, when Ford realizes that she (and everyone but Turtle) had fallen for Westing's "Queen's Sacrifice" again, this time in a non-chess setting.