Book Review: Nine Liars – Maureen Johnson

Nine Liars

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #5

Genre: YA, Mystery/Thriller

Published: December 27th, 2022 (Katherine Tegen Books )


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Senior year at Ellingham Academy for Stevie Bell isn’t going well. Her boyfriend, David, is studying in London. Her friends are obsessed with college applications. With the cold case of the century solved, Stevie is adrift. There is nothing to distract her from the questions pinging around her brain – questions about college, love, and life in general.

Relief comes when David invites Stevie and her friends to join him for study abroad, and his new friend Izzy introduces her to a double-murder cold case. In 1995, nine friends from Cambridge University went to a country house and played a drunken game of hide-and-seek. Two were found in the woodshed the next day, murdered with an ax.

The case was assumed to be a burglary gone wrong, but one of the remaining seven saw something she can’t explain. This was no break-in. Someone’s lying about what happened in the woodshed.

Seven suspects. Two murders. One killer still playing a deadly game.

My Thoughts

With David in London, no mystery to solve and college application deadlines looming, senior year is not going well for Stevie Bell. When David invites all of them to join him for a week in a study abroad program, they seize the opportunity – and arrive to be introduced to an unsolved murder case by his new friend Izzy. A group of nine friends, students from Cambridge, had a party at a country manor house that included a very drunken game of hide-and-seek on a dark and stormy night. The next day, two of their number were found murdered in the woodshed. The case has long been considered a break-in gone wrong, but the surviving seven are keeping many secrets, and one of them saw something that night that makes her doubt the outcome of the investigation and suspect that the killer is still at large – and is one of the seven themselves.

💭 Initial Thoughts: For some reason, I saw barely any hype for the release of this book, or maybe I was just looking in the wrong place. The end of December is a bit of an odd time for new books, but anyway, I had literally no idea this book was even coming out until late August. It was so lovely to return to this series, world and characters once again! That said, I felt like Nine Liars was weaker compared to the previous books in the series, not from a mystery aspect, but rather from other perspectives.

🌎 Plot, World building & Atmosphere: With this series no longer being one continuous story unlike the first three books, the feel of the story has definitely changed. The setting is different with each new installment, and this time Stevie and her friends find themselves in London, and eventually, in a country manor house. I didn’t really get the feel and tension of the mystery until they arrived at the manor, but given that they were there for all of one day, it simply wasn’t enough to create the atmosphere.

There was a dual timeline narration, which I appreciated, as it made up a little for the lack of atmosphere in the present timeline. Between the flashbacks to the night of the murders, the various witness statements as recorded by the police, and even one chapter from the killer’s POV, describing what actually happened, the past timeline was a great addition to the story and the world building was excellent. I do wish there could have been more of the flashback chapters, for example, there turned out to be a pretty important event to figuring things out that the seven only reference in their conversations, but I feel that including it as a chapter would have made things more interesting for the readers.

✍🏻 Writing & Narration: The first handful of chapters were painfully slow, and it took a good 25% of the book before things finally started moving. I have nothing to complain about from the mystery angle, but the execution left a lot to be desired. The time span of this mystery was only a week, which is ridiculously short. Much of that is spent in London and Stevie and her friends are busy taking in the sights, so though they were introduced to the mystery earlier in their stay, I felt like all the real sleuthing happened in maybe the last ten or fifteen chapters – basically the last three days, and it just felt like too much was going on too fast without giving the reader the opportunity to take any of it in or draw any conclusions themselves. Also, it makes the detailed maps at the beginning of the book (which I was initially rather delighted to see) kind of pointless. I do however like the author’s writing style and the narration kept me turning the pages to find out who was behind it all.

👥 Characters: It was great to be back with the crew again, and the characters were exactly as I remembered them. Stevie spent the first handful of chapters just moping around and annoyed at not having any case to solve and needing to deal with real life things like college instead, and that went on long enough that it honestly irritated me to the extent that I had very little sympathy to spare for her, especially when she started lying to her friends so they would go with her to the country house. While her character gets a bit better and more bearable once she’s sleuthing again, that was when the relationship drama started and I was ready for it to be over already. The way this book ended though, it looks like it’s going to continue into the next book and I am so pissed off with David right now.

Janelle, Vi and Nate were there a lot of the time, but I felt like they didn’t play as significant a role as they could have. The nine friends were quite a lot to keep track of, so many names and backstories that it took a while to figure them out, but once I did, I found the past timeline much more interesting than the present. I was very surprised though at how cooperative they were with Stevie’s investigating and questioning.

🎬 Ending: Apart from everything being terribly rushed, the mystery, the culprit, how they got away with it all these years, and how Stevie put the pieces together was all rather smart and I did enjoy it. However, like The Box in the Woods, there weren’t many hints and certainly none clear enough to even attempt to figure out things ahead of the climax. The author also once again, went with a more passive type of reveal – and that really goes for the rest of this book too. There was no sense of danger to Stevie or her friends, and the only thing in terms of high stakes was Angela being missing and needing to find her in time – but that was also resolved before the climax, leaving next to no action for the ending. To be honest, the way things were left for Stevie and David was the reason I got annoyed enough that I started noticing all the other things wrong with the book – there wasn’t the typical satisfaction that is usually found at the end of a good mystery or thriller of an interesting case solved, instead we end with relationship drama that can’t even count as a cliffhanger.

Final Thoughts & Recommendation: While this latest installment in the Truly Devious series did not live up to the standard set by the previous book, and I just spent nearly the entire length of my review complaining, it was an entertaining read all the same. I would definitely recommend this book and series, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Stevie’s next case will be.

Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series:


10 thoughts on “Book Review: Nine Liars – Maureen Johnson

  1. Fadima Mooneira January 31, 2023 / 8:56 am

    Wow… this book has an intriguing storyline. I’m sure it’s a good read. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I'm All Booked Up YA January 31, 2023 / 9:57 am

    Great review! We want to read this one, but we still have so many books ahead of it. We agree with you. It didn’t get a lot of hype and we didn’t find out about it until recently.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Drew Alexander Ross January 31, 2023 / 3:01 pm

    Loved the layout of this post. Sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fransic verso February 1, 2023 / 8:42 am

    I love reading mystery books and usually, I end up finishing all the books because it keeps me wanting to know everything. This book seems interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) February 4, 2023 / 3:53 pm

      It was an interesting read, and it definitely kept me turning the pages! Thanks for reading and commenting!


  5. Max Ethan February 7, 2023 / 2:36 am

    Great review! We want to read this one, I love reading mystery books.. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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