Review: Truly Devious

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.

So, I picked up this book having heard very little of it, only because of Maureen Johnson (I mean, who wouldn’t, right?). I had no expectations and was met with a very interesting little read.

This book is a mystery that flashes between modern day and the early 20th century. The two timelines were working to solve the same mystery, but in very different circumstances. I found this change of POV to be very…out of place, almost. Now, when you look at it the way I explained it, it makes sense. However, it seems that most of the story was focused on the people solving the mystery, versus the mystery itself.

Now, hear me out here. There is no debate here–this story is most certainly a mystery. However, there is very interesting character development, conflict, and moral dilemmas throughout the novel that has very little to do with the crime they are trying to solve. For example, the MC is clearly suffering from some anxiety problems, as well as just accepting her identity and worth. Now, this character development occurs partly due to the problems that arise during the mystery. However, most of the interest in her character lives entirely outside of the mystery plot.

Well, I have no idea if that makes any sense, like, at all. But, haha, I tried. All of this to say, the story was much deeper and more complex than just a murder mystery. We got to know every character and their struggles in some way that allowed us to relate to them and grow in a much more human way than you usually see in YA lit. Thus, the switching of POVs almost every chapter seems to make the story a bit choppy. I didn’t dislike it, necessarily, but I am not a big fan of changing POVs, and it took away from the experience a bit for me in this case.

However, overall, I enjoyed Truly Devious quite a bit. As I said, it was much more complex and meaningful than I thought it was going to be from the synopsis, and I am glad I gave it a shot.

3.5 out of 5.


2 thoughts on “Review: Truly Devious

  1. Thanks for the review on this. I was looking into buying this one but had been hesitant on it, but now this just solidified it for me. I won’t be but, it sounds too confusing and I would lose interest very quickly.

  2. It was super convoluted, in my opinion. It added some intrigue to it, but it took me awhile to plow through (and generally I like more complex plots). If you have a shorter reading attention span, I wouldn’t start here!

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