Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson – Review

Welcome to another book review! I hope you are having a fantastic start to this new and wonderful month. Today’s review is of Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. This book was okay. I liked the mystery and there is diversity and representation, but I felt like the new mystery overshadowed the Ellingham kidnappings and murder.

Book: Truly Devious

Author: Maureen Johnson

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Summary: 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.

Quote: “When you have enough power and money, you can dictate the meanings of words.”

The Good:

*Mystery. If ya’ll haven’t realized it yet, I love a good murder mystery. Especially ones that are cold cases and the killer has come back to commit more murders. And this story delivers that. I loved the idea of the Ellingham Murders and I was super excited to join Stevie on the quest to solve them. Tiny hints were given through-out the story and I was engrossed by the two timelines, one from 1936 when the kidnappings happened, and the present day. I loved it, and I was super disappointed that this ended up more about the new death than the Ellingham mystery, but I was still super intrigued and immediately picked up the second book.

*Representation. You do not know how happy I was to see some diversity/representation in this book. Janelle, Stevie’s best friend, is described as a person of color and is also a lesbian. During their initial tour of Ellingham, we also meet a girl who’s in a wheelchair and a hijabi. Stevie suffers anxiety and has panic attacks. It was just so nice to see a group of people who aren’t perfect, who are from different backgrounds, and who are still awesome amazing people.

*Characters. I liked Ellie. She was so vibrant, confident, and cool, but beware of being in her company for too long. Janelle is perfect. She’s a builder and super handy with tools, yet she dresses up and wears make-up and perfume. It’s nice to see her not being a stereotypical female mechanic character who wears overalls and doesn’t even know that makeup exists etc. Nate is probably my favorite. I loved the fact that he’s socially awkward, pale as a ghost, and loves to write. The way he doesn’t know how to communicate, is forever grumpy and pessimistic, and who would do anything to help Stevie even though it goes against his better judgement just made him an amazing character and a super loyal friend.

*Setting. To be honest, I liked the setting of the story. Ellingham Academy is located on top of a mountain in Vermont. There is only one road in and it is very very rough. The remoteness of the place made it seem more surreal and also narrowed the cast of suspects down to whoever was staying there. The description of mountain air and the beauty of the woods was amazing and I loved it.

Quote: “You have to take things as they are, not how you hear they’re supposed to be.” 

The Bad:

*Writing style. The beginning of the book and I aren’t best friends. I just thought it felt a little off and a little bit more telling than showing. But it got much better and I ended up enjoying it.

*Character voice. I didn’t feel like Stevie was a teenager. She sounded a bit childish. I didn’t feel like the characters in general were teenagers but more like fourteen/fifteen than seventeen.

*New Mystery. I was honestly disappointed that this was more about the new mystery than the Ellingham case. The only reason I probably finished this was because of the new secrets being revealed about the Ellingham mystery throughout the story and maybe because I needed more Nate, Ellie, and Janelle.

Quote: “Where her books were, she was. Get the books right and the rest will follow.”

The Wrap:

All in all, I liked this, I would recommend it, and I hope you enjoy it if you read it.

One sentence summary: An okay book with an intriguing mystery, and great characters.

Overall, 3 stars

Have you read Truly Devious? What did you think? Am I the only one that was a little disappointed that the mystery wasn’t that focused on the Ellingham murders? Let’s chat in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson – Review

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