Book Review: Truly Devious
By: Maureen Johnson
Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Page Count: 432
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Young Adult - Mystery
I've been a long time fan of Maureen Johnson since first walking the streets of London with Rory as she attempted to stay alive when someone was mimicking the killings of Jack the Ripper. After becoming a huge fan of the Shades of London series and seeing Johnson speak at a book signing, I was hooked and couldn't wait to see what she would come up with next. Truly Devious takes the mystery elements I loved about the Shades of London series and adds a sinister human element to it with no sign of a paranormal culprit. While blaming a being of paranormal origins for heinous crimes is predictable, we don't often want to face the deviousness that can reside within the human spirit. It's these stories with a truly human face that I find to be the most terrifying.
As with Rory, our main character in Truly Devious, Stevie, is an outsider who finds herself in a boarding school in Vermont. I love Johnson's use of the fish out of water trope as it always makes for intriguing heroines. The school, unlike Rory's, is not smack in the middle of bustling metropolis, but rather lies in an isolated spot clustered among mountains and nature. The closest town is easily a half hour away. To give things a creepier air, the school is the former home of a wealthy family from the 1930's that suffered unspeakable tragedy when the wife and daughter of the owner were kidnapped and presumed murdered. Stevie has applied to attend the exclusive Ellingham Academy in part because of the crime. She is a true crime aficionado who longs to become a detective some day. Stevie hopes that attending school and seeing where everything went down so long ago can help her shed new light on the cold case.
Stevie's dorm allows for her to begin to form relationships with her five housemates. Each of these relationships will play an integral role in Stevie's time at school as she works on finding clues and keeping up with her studies. Each of the students at the school excel in some area. Janelle and Nate have been talking to Stevie prior to coming to Ellingham as they are all new students. They have formed a bond of sorts before setting foot in Vermont. In person, Janelle is bubbly and nurturing, but has a deep seated desire to be successful as she invents machines. Nate is quiet and observant; he adamantly avoids talking about writing, but it's what has made his name a notoriety since he finished his first best selling novel at such a young age. The newbies are joined in the house by three veterans of the school: Element (aka Ellie) who is an artsy commune type, Hayes who is a handsome leading man sort, and David who is aloof and secretive. Stevie finds David the most difficult to read out of all her housemates; she feels for sure that he is hiding essential details about his personal life. As the teens get to know one another and settle into a daily rhythm, Stevie begins truly feel at peace in her own skin - except for the dead body thing.
The opening of the novel reveals that Stevie has a deep rooted wish to be standing over a dead body. She isn't a psychopath who wants to kill, but she does want to solve murders. She never expects that she will get her chance so soon, but a classmate turns up dead apparently from a tragic accident. Stevie can't accept that there was no foul play involved and she launches herself headlong into a secret investigation to uncover the truth and what really happened the night her classmate died.
Told partly in Stevie's voice in the present as she grapples with the crimes of the past and the death in her reality and partly in narrative from witnesses from the 1930's, Truly Devious is a chilling mystery that is meticulous woven to keep the reader guessing. Agatha Christie and Sir Conan Arthur Doyle (two of Stevie's idols, I might add) would certainly tip their hats to Maureen Johnson for this work. Everything is intricate and joined together, but its difficult to see up close and is better viewed from the ending chapters where things begin to fall in place. I am anxious to get the next installment in my hands.
While I highly recommend picking this up when it hits the shelves tomorrow, I do need to give you one small bit of cautionary advice. There are some major loose ends when this one concludes. I know it's to lead up to things that will be revealed in subsequent books, but I would have liked a little more resolution about certain elements. I have learned to be patient while reading Johnson's series and I know this one will deliver in spades in spite of my lack of patience.
One Last Gripe: My only complaint was the cliffhangerish ending.
Favorite Thing About the Book: I have lots of favorite elements, but I suppose I'll go with the structure. I loved the past and the present segments. I was firmly invested in both mysteries.
First Sentence: Fate came for Dottie Epstein a year earlier, in the form of a call to the principal's office.
Favorite Character: Stevie - I like that she's complex and flawed.
Least Favorite Character: Hayes - I found him to be insufferable.
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.