Truly Devious By Maureen Johnson
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Summary From Goodreads:
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.
I loved Ms. Johnson’s Shades of London series, so I was pretty sure that this one was going to be good, and I was not disappointed. This is a wonderful start to a new trilogy with interesting characters and setting and a very interesting murder method. Intrigued yet?
The story for the most part is being told by Stevie Bell, but there are parts of the old murder interspersed throughout the chapters. These are police interviews and recounting of the people involved in the original kidnapping and murders. This is an interesting way to get both stories told, and you would think it might disrupt the flow of the present day story, but it doesn’t. I actually found it interesting, especially when what was happening in the past reflected what was going on in the present.
Stevie Bell is a great character. She really knows how to look at the evidence and come up with different ideas of what is happening. She grew up with ultra conservative parents, who are not quite sure what to make of their daughter’s interest in crime and the Ellingham Academy. Her interactions with them are well done and really help to flesh out her character. Stevie also suffers from anxiety, which plays into her character very well. She is for the most part a pretty confident and very smart person, but with doubts that feeds into her anxiety. She also takes some risks that maybe she shouldn’t and that gets her into trouble. She really struggles with making and maintaining friendships which is the cause of a lot of her anxiety.
Her dorm mates are an interesting collection of teenagers. She becomes closest to Janelle, a maker/inventor, but their relationship does become a bit strained as the story progresses. She also becomes close to Nate, who at a young age became a published author and is now struggling with writers block. I really liked Nick, he is somewhat anti-social but once you get him out of his shell he can be a good friend when needed. He actually keeps Stevie from going to far in her investigations. There is also Hayes a YouTube Star with dubious intentions and Ellie an artist and sort of the bad influence in the group. Finally there is David, who I liked but never really trusted. He is an interesting character and he wants to help Stevie, but totally goes about it wrong. He is a bit awkward but endearingly cute.
I loved the setting. Ellingham Academy sounds like a pretty amazing place to live. Vermont is also a great setting for a book, with it’s weather issues and remote places. The buildings on the grounds also are perfect for the story and at times lends to the underlying spookiness of the story.
The plot is very interesting and complex. I don’t want to give too much away, but the present day murder is done in a way I’ve never seen in a book before. It is different. The old Ellingham mystery is also very well done. Neither murder is solved by the end of the book, and there is a bit of a cliffhanger that was unexpected, but all in all a very well crafted story. The book is a tad long, and there are some slow spots, but the character development is done in a way that keeps you invested in them and in what happens to them.
This is a great start to this murder mystery series, with interesting characters, a great setting and a complex story. It may not keep you up at night, but it will keep you guessing as to the real identity of Truly Devious.