Truly Devious | Maureen Johnson | Review

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





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.


I have heard so many good things about this series, I am a bit late to the party but when I saw it was 99p on Kindle I knew that this was my chance to dive straight into it and see what all the fuss was about. I’m going to be honest, I am still wondering what all the fuss is about. It is not fair for me to say I did not enjoy this book, because I did, I just don’t understand why it is so hyped.

Lets get into what I did like first. The first thing that really stuck out to me whilst reading this book is the writing style that Maureen Johnson adopts. Immediately, as I dived in I felt myself being drawn into this mystery. The writing is very easy to read and is not complicated in any way and therefore if you want to read this in one sitting you would very easily do so, despite the fact it is over 400 pages. The plot did keep me guessing in many parts of the book and I was taken by surprise for that reason.

I also enjoyed the way that the book was split into the past and the present. I liked learning about the history of Ellingham Academy and the Ellingham’s. What had me immersed was the fact that the reader is drip fed information about this mystery throughout the book which added to my excitement also. Essentially you will find that there are two mysteries in one book, both are linked however they are also fairly separate.

The characters are good, I feel like they could have done with a little bit more development. Stevie, I really enjoyed her character at first but then as the time went on I decided that I didn’t like her very much anymore and she started to annoy me. At the end of the book I really didn’t like her. There are other mysterious characters including Nate, Dan, Hayes and others. Whilst I don’t think there was anything wrong with them I just did not build up a rapport with them, there wasn’t much of a connection so I didn’t really care what happened to them. I feel like this is a big negative when it comes to a mystery book. Inevitably big things are going to be happening to these characters, and when you don’t really care it has an effect on your enjoyment greatly.

Now to address the elephant in the room, for me, the ending was very anti-climatic. I just didn’t care. I know, this is a very unpopular opinion but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed. Every time I heard about this book I picked up on the fact people immediately wanted to pick up the next one because of how good the ending was. I got to the ending and looked for more, I found myself questioning whether I had missed anything. Yeah I suppose it was an interesting twist, but it didn’t excite me in any way.

I did enjoy this book enough to request the next book from my library. But I don’t think I will be purchasing the series and my continuation of said series very much depends on how I feel about The Vanishing Stair.

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