Title: The Box In The Woods
Series: Truly Devious #4
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genre: YA, Mystery
Published: June 15th, 2021 (Katherine Tegen Books)
Synopsis: Amateur sleuth Stevie Bell needs a good murder. After catching a killer at her high school, she’s back at home for a normal (that means boring) summer.
But then she gets a message from the owner of Sunny Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls—the site of the notorious unsolved case, the Box in the Woods Murders. Back in 1978, four camp counselors were killed in the woods outside of the town of Barlow Corners, their bodies left in a gruesome display. The new owner offers Stevie an invitation: Come to the camp and help him work on a true crime podcast about the case.
Stevie agrees, as long as she can bring along her friends from Ellingham Academy. Nothing sounds better than a summer spent together, investigating old murders.
But something evil still lurks in Barlow Corners. When Stevie opens the lid on this long-dormant case, she gets much more than she bargained for. The Box in the Woods will make room for more victims. This time, Stevie may not make it out alive.
Solving the Ellingham murder case gained Stevie a few fleeting moments of fame but now she has a very boring, normal summer ahead of her. When she gets an email from the owner of Sunny Pines summer camp formerly Camp Wonder Falls, which was the site of an unsolved murder case in the 70s known as the Box in the Woods Murders, she can’t resist the opportunity to solve another mystery – especially since she is invited to bring her friends along too. As Stevie begins to investigate, she realizes that though the case is long dormant, trouble still lingers around it and this might be more dangerous than she anticipated.
While I missed the boarding school setting of the first three books, The Box In The Woods takes us into an equally intriguing mystery and the summer camp setting turned out to be rather good as well and gave the same creepy feel. Like the trilogy, this book is narrated in two timelines, one showing how the murders played out along with the aftermath and in the present, Stevie’s investigation. I really enjoy dual timelines and while I was a little disappointed that the past timeline didn’t last for long, it also made sense since this mystery was not as complex as the first one. This can technically be read as a standalone novel, but having read the first three books definitely gives the reader more context in terms of the characters and Stevie’s approach to sleuthing.
The major difference between this mystery and the first is that it was much closer to present day than the Ellingham case, meaning that there were actually real witnesses still living who had experienced and lost someone to the murders. This meant that Stevie could not simply analyze the case in a clinical manner and she had to interact and get information from people who were not always pleased to dredge up their memories of the events – certainly not to an outsider. I thought that this provided a nice character arc for her in this book. We also get to see more of Janelle and Nate, and also David, whom I liked much better this time around although the romantic subplot didn’t really have much time as the narrative moved so fast.
I did enjoy this book, but I’m not very sure what to think about the ending. There were only the barest hints beforehand as to the motive and perpetrator of the murders and those pieces of information were impossible to link until the end. However, it felt like the clue Stevie searches for through most of the book, a diary belonging to one of the victims, had the answers to everything, including some things that the reader literally had no way of even considering until the diary is being read out loud. I guess I was also expecting a little more action towards the end rather than such a passive reveal?
Truly Devious is definitely still my favorite, mostly because that was a trilogy with a much more intricate mystery, but this was still a very enjoyable read. While I’m not the biggest fan of spin offs, this is one series I would not mind seeing more novels in. There’s a great cast of characters and through the original trilogy we’ve gotten to know Stevie and her friends really well and have some solid background knowledge which would serve as a wonderful base if this should be extended further, whether into standalone novels or another series. I would highly recommend this book for mystery fans!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: