Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)

by Maureen Johnson

From New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson comes the start of a new series about a sharp and funny young detective named Stevie Bell who begins school at an elite, yet peculiar, boarding school and finds herself entangled in a murder mystery; perfect for fans of 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES.

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.

Reviewed by Stephanie on

4 of 5 stars

This review was originally posted on Once Upon a Chapter

The blurb for Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson snagged me at "unsolved disappearance" and really appealed to my love of true crime. The fact that this particular disappearance is a cold case and decades old only added to the appeal.

I really enjoyed Stevie and the friends that she makes at Ellingham Academy. She resonated with me because we both really enjoy true crime. That sentence right there will either tell you if we're similar or not. To people who don't understand they think that true crime "fans", if you will, actually enjoy the crime itself.

People who understand both Stevie and I will actually understand that it isn't the act of the crime itself that draws you in. What was the motive? Who did it? Why did they think they could get away with it? Did they get away with it? Was it a crime of passion? Is the criminal a psychopath, a sociopath, or something else entirely? What led up to the crime? Who was the victim? Why them? Was there even a reason for them becoming a victim? Were there survivors? It's more of a sociology fascination than it is anything to do with the actual act of the crime. Talking about true crime to those who find it morbid is uncomfortable for everybody involved if the participants don't understand that.

As true crime is what got Stevie into Ellingham to begin with, true crime comes up a lot. In this book, Stevie kind of hid her passion because of the social shame that often comes with it. I'm hoping in the next book she lets that shine a little bit more.

I was completely wrapped up in Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. A free boarding school that was the site of a very disturbing disappearance? Yes please! I also really enjoyed the fact that this story was told on a dual timeline; present and during the time of the abductions and disappearances.

The one thing that threw me was the curve ball of an ending. Had it not been for the really odd ending and the fact that there were seemingly no answers just more questions, I would have given this book a 5 star. As it is, I'm am avidly awaiting the second book in the series.

Last modified on

Reading updates

  • Started reading
  • 6 September, 2018: Finished reading
  • 6 September, 2018: Reviewed
  • Started reading
  • 6 September, 2018: Finished reading
  • 6 September, 2018: Reviewed