Book Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson weaves a delicate tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a striking new series, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and E. Lockhart.
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 two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.
I’m a big fan of mysteries so I was really looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint. Well, it did disappoint, only in that it’s the first book in a trilogy so the mystery wasn’t solved. I can not wait to read the next book.
Let me start by saying The Westing Game is one of my favorite childhood books. It is the only book that I have re-read multiple times. I used to re-read it once a year and am getting ready to read it out loud to Thing 2 (age 9) in hopes that it will also be one of her childhood favorites. TRULY DEVIOUS REMINDED ME A LOT OF THE WESTING GAME IN TONE, IN LANGUAGE, AND IN THE WAY IT COLLECTED SUCH AN INTERESTING MIXTURE OF INTERESTING CHARACTERS INTO ONE SPOT AND SET UP A MYSTERY THAT YOU WERE INTERESTED IN SOLVING. As I’ve mentioned, I have no idea how this particular mystery is solved, because it isn’t yet. And to be honest, this is two mysteries in one as it has a historical mystery and a contemporary mystery.
I love the MC Stevie, who struggles with anxiety in very realistic ways. She is just one of many quirky, intelligent and ambitious teens who come to the Ellington Academy to learn in a very nontraditional environment. Each character is very unique and fully fleshed out in complex ways. I can’t help but wonder who among them may be an evil doer? I liked the people, I liked the school, and I am glad that we are getting more of it, though I’m not going to lie: When the book “ended” I threw it down yelling, “what kind of ending is that?” I want more of these characters and this school, but with a new mystery. I wanted answers. I am impatient, I don’t want to wait. Alas, wait I must.
I highly recommend it. Teens looking for a fun, engaging mystery will enjoy it.
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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