Book Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

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.

GENRE: 

Young Adult, Murder Mystery, Thriller

PAGES: 

432 pages

PART OF A SERIES?:

1st in the Series

RELEASE DATE: 

January 16th, 2018

YOU CAN FIND THE BOOK AT:

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GOODREADS SUMMARY: 

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.

MY REVIEW:

**Please note that this review is based on a complementary copy given to me in exchange for an honest review. This in no way had any effect on the integrity of my review**

I feel like its been quite some time since I’ve read a Maureen Johnson book and I was pleasantly surprised to receive this in the mail. I’m not big into murder mystery but I seem to be reading quite a few of those lately. I remember liking the Shades of London series and that had some dark, murderous themes in it so I was excited to dive into this. I’m also a sucker for any book that takes place at a boarding school. I don’t know why! Maybe boarding schools totally suck but I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by them.

What I immediately loved about this novel was the jump back and forth between the current time, with Stevie, and with characters that surrounded the disappearance of Albert’s wife and child. You get a sense of the murder from Stevie’s perspective, in modern times, as a person who has been obsessing over for so many years, but you also get different accounts of what happened from the characters back in the 30s. It was intriguing and it did an excellent job at building the mystery and creating more questions than answers. It also matched really well with the current story, especially once a death occurs in Stevie’s time. It felt like two separate stories at once, taking place in two different time periods, but intertwining. I thought that was incredibly clever and incredibly well done.

I really loved the character of Stevie. I appreciated how real she felt and how she seemed incredibly unsure of herself. She knows her stuff; she’s been studying crimes and that sort of thing for as long as she can remember, and she’s smart as a whip. Her intelligence is never in question to me, but she’s constantly unsure of why she’s at Ellingham, other than her own desire to solve the mystery that occurred there so long ago. She battles with so much uncertainty and anxiety, wondering about her friends and boys and where she fits in and whether she’s actually truly capable of doing what she came there to do. I really liked that Maureen gave this character anxiety but did so in a way that felt genuine and familiar and also had the character dealing with it as best she could.

Lastly, I really liked what Maureen did with pacing. She starts off slow, like a burn and gets faster and more frantic into the story as it goes on and your own emotions follow that in tandem. I went from enjoying it to clutching the pages, needing to know what happened in Stevie’s modern time and dying to know what happened in the past. When things start to unfold in a way that I had not expected, I was ready to find out more…just in time for the book to end with an incredible cliffhanger and, alas, now I have to wait until the sequel comes out to find out what happens next! But I thought that was a perfect way to write a murder mystery and that her pacing and storytelling is what got me addicted by the end and begging for the second book. I can’t wait for it!

RATING:

4.5 out of 5 Stars

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