2022 Book Review Book Reviews Mystery

Truly Devious

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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. 


As someone who has not read a lot of YA mysteries, or normal mysteries to be honest, I was unsure of what to expect from Truly Devious. Was I going to slump on the couch and read a dull YA romance disguised as any other genre? Or was I really going to be sitting on the edge of my seat, puzzling over what the heck was going on? Honestly? Truly Devious satisfied my expectations. It was a quick and easy read that still had me engrossed.

First off, the setting is what I’d be so bold as to call every bookworm’s dream. It’s a school that’s essentially a collection of Gothic mansions being used as dorms and classrooms, filled with numerous nooks and crannies that would be perfect for reading. Plus, there’s a giant library. Who doesn’t think that sounds nice?

Another thing I loved about this story were its characters. You get to read about different characters’ perspectives from the past, when the first murderers happened, and you get to see how their stories connect to Stevie’s main perspective, which I loved. I even wish you got to read more about some of the characters from the past (specifically Leonard Holmes Nair). As for the characters from the present-day perspective, no one was perfect, and it gave this story more life (no pun intended). Everyone was sorting out their own problems while dealing with people who were equally confused about what to do with their lives. Nothing seemed forced or artificial, and there was never a dull moment of interaction. Luckily, this also meant that there wasn’t too much cheesy romance. There was definitely a romance subplot developing in this story that will be explored later on in the series, but it really didn’t overpower the main plot. I’m just resentful it was there because I did not like the character Stevie started to fall for and I really wanted there to be no cheesy romance, but that is my more unserious take. 

As far as the story goes, the mystery of the past intertwined with the mystery of the present had me hooked from the start. I really was sitting on the edge of my seat, turning each page in anticipation. There were moments where I had to remind myself not to look ahead and get spoilers because I was that intrigued. Even its straightforward writing acted to the novel’s benefit, making the observant nature of the main character evident and exposing the way she had trained herself to think like a detective. 

Unfortunately, there were a few times that the straightforwardness and consistency were lost and the writing was not the best. Specifically when the author would try to delve into thought processes and crack a few jokes. Sometimes it would be a jumble of incoherent observations on how time causes memory to mess up or just a sentence that stylistically repeated a word but ended up making no sense. I get that the author was using repetition to make a point, but it’s pretty counterintuitive to use it so much that your point is actually lost. The writing was not the best, but the story and setting carried the novel. I chose this book for a fun read after the previous novel I finished, so this did not bother me as much as others.

Outside of this, the only other downfall this book had was the one typo I found. I would be lying if I said it didn’t kill the entire mood and concentration for that particular reading session. Is it so hard to notice that there is a missing quotation mark that causes you to double take because all of a sudden you see that somewhere in the paragraph a quote was supposed to have started?? 

If only the inconsistencies in this book didn’t happen, then I wouldn’t have had to reread sentences in order to make sense of them, and this book would have gotten an easy five stars. Overall I fell in love with the atmosphere and setting, I love a lot of the characters, I got the easy and entertaining read I was looking for, and I will be investing in book #2 of this series. So I guess you could say it was a success. If you are looking for an easy YA mystery read, consider Truly Devious.

Let’s Talk:
  • Have you read Truly Devious?
    • Did you enjoy it?
  • Do you have any YA mystery recommendations?
  • Recs for someone looking to get more into the mystery genre?

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