Fiction, Mystery, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson


What you lack in any investigation is time. With every passing hour, evidence slips away. Crime scenes are compromised by people and the elements. Things are moved, altered, smeared, shifted. Organisms rot. Wind blows dusts and contaminants. Memories change and fade. As you move away from the event, you move away from the solution.  –Truly Devious

This book was recommended by “The Clockwork Reader” Booktube channel. Hannah, the channel’s creator, was so passionate about how good it was that I decided to give it a try. She reads a lot of fiction and comments on a great variety within the genre. That, plus her soothing voice, are making me a return watcher of her channel. Plus, I desperately needed something to balance out my two previous reads.

Advertised as a YA mystery novel, the story in Truly Devious is so slick and the characters so well crafted, that adults would love it too. So, yes, my first Booktube recommendation was a complete success.

Set at Ellingham Academy, a distant cousin to Hogwarts minus the magic, the school is as unique as its students. Built in the 1930’s by newspaper tycoon Albert Ellingham, the school earned unwanted notoriety when the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped shortly after its completion. A few years later an overly-curious student is murdered, presumably by the same person, a teasing riddler using the pseudonym of “Truly Devious.”

Fast forward another few decades. The crimes remain unsolved, making them the prime focus and school project of new student, Stevie. She, like all other Ellingham scholars, was chosen as part of an elite program. Plucked from high schools around the country, those admitted are allowed to pursue their own educational paths. Each has a talent, a project, and a goal. The academy’s job is to help them reach those goals.

Stevie is all about solving mysteries, listening to true crime podcasts, and reading the classics by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dorothy L. Sayers. Her instincts are sharp and her perception is honed. The Ellingham crimes are the perfect cold case.

Truly Devious is masterful storytelling. The author, Maureen Johnson, creates an automatic challenge by having so many smart characters, and she meets that challenge with both grace and gusto. The story tick tocks between time periods. There are the days after the initial kidnappings in 1936 and modern day with Stevie and her classmates.   Each time period has a very specific style and it is almost like you’re reading two books at the same time. I also loved some of the poetic rhythms in Stevie’s thoughts and the subtle creativity the author uses in students’ names, especially “Hayes” and “Ellie.” If you read it, you’ll understand.

But be warned, the reader is toyed with almost as much as the characters. The end of the book is not the end of the story. Some questions are answered, some are not, and new ones appear. In any other circumstance that would be maddening. Not here. The next book in the series, The Vanishing Stair, will be released in January and it’s already in my calendar.

9.5/10 Stars


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