Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson

Title: Truly Devious
Series: Truly Devious #1
: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA, Mystery
: January 16th, 2018 (HarperCollins)

: Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history. 

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.


“The critical scene of the mystery is when the detective enters.
The action shifts to Sherlock’s sitting room.
The little Belgian man with the waxed moustache
appears in the lobby of the grand hotel.
The gentle old woman with the bag of knitting comes to visit
her niece when the poison pen letters start going around the village.
The private detective comes back to the office after a night of
drinking and finds the woman with the cigarette and the veiled hat.
This is when things will change.
The detective had arrived at Ellingham Academy.”

True-crime enthusiast Stevie Bell arrives for her first year at the famous Ellingham academy, and her goal is to unravel the decades old mystery that hangs over the school  – the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of the school’s wealthy founder, Albert Ellingham. The only clue found at the time was a mocking letter signed with the pseudonym, Truly Devious. But is this cold case really a thing of the past? Stevie’s investigation suddenly turns a lot more dangerous – for Truly Devious has returned to Ellingham Academy, and murder with it.

When I initially read Truly Devious, I liked it, but it didn’t really spike my curiosity as mystery novels usually do. However, I enjoyed this re-read far more as I took the time to sit down and analyze this mystery. I particularly liked the dual timelines which provided a very unique perspective to the mystery as we discover some facts about the past which Stevie has yet to find and vice versa. When the pieces start coming together in the sequels, this is going to get really exciting! Most of Truly Devious is set up for the mystery in present day while explaining the events of the past, but it manages to keep an engaging pace throughout despite the fact that we see the past timeline in bits and pieces.

It was also really nice that while Stevie is definitely a budding detective and has the skills to put the pieces together, it was nothing unrealistic. The side characters like Nate, Ellie, and David were all very well developed and with so many people around the school keeping secrets, it really adds to the feel of the novel as Stevie is not sure who can be trusted.

Overall, Truly Devious was a very interesting read, and left me with so many questions unanswered especially with regards to that cliffhanger. It’s due to books like these that mystery is once again one of the regular genres on my TBR and I would highly recommend this series! It’s just over a month until the final book is out – I can’t wait!

Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series:
Book 2: The Vanishing Stair
Book 3: The Hand on the Wall


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