Author Maureen Johnson weaves a tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a new series.
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.
Review: 4 Stars
Truly Devious is the type of murder mystery novel that is exactly up my alley. It’s written by an author that I already like, set at a boarding school full of secret passageways and has two alternating timelines, one set in the ’30s and the other in the present and both timelines feature intriguing mysteries. I can see why this series has generated quite a bit of hype. It has been on my to-be-read list for quite a while, but when I realized that Maureen Johnson was the same author that wrote 13 Little Blue Envelopes I decided it was time I finally read the book my friends have been buzzing about.
The plot and setting were both so cool that it was so easy to be drawn into this book, but I had hoped that the pacing would be faster than it was. But since most of the book focuses on solving a cold case, I guess I shouldn’t have expected it to move very fast. The ending of this book left me hanging and everything felt unsolved. I am not a reader who generally hates cliffhangers, but this one was kind of cruel. I don’t think I’ve ever been left with a cliffhanger when reading a murder mystery. I need to know whodunit, which I guess is great marketing for the sequel, because now I need to read it.
As far as the characters go, I really liked them all. They were all a bit quirky and nerdy, but I find those types of characters easier to relate to in YA novels than preppy and fake characters. I also loved that Stevie’s struggles with anxiety were included in this book. Her anxiety was described in a way that really helped humanize anxiety as a whole and showed how crippling it can be without dramatizing it. I loved Stevie as a character and found that she did a decent job of actually representing what it is like to be a teen, which is missing from a lot of today’s Young Adult Fiction.
It was a fun read with a really cool setting, but I wish that it was paced a little faster. The cliffhanger was a bit brutal, leaving me needing the next installment. I loved Maureen Johnson’s writing and liked this book better than 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Most of all I love Stevie and can’t wait to read the next installment.