Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Synopsis/Cover Image from Publisher's Website:
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.


Maureen Johnson is one of my favorite YA authors. Not only have I devoured and loved the majority of her YA contemporary books (The Key to Everything, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Last Little Blue Envelope, and Girl At Sea), but they've always toped my "best of" lists. Therefore, when I caught wind that she was releasing a new series - one focusing on a teenage sleuth, a decades old murder mystery, and a boarding school setting - I was jumping-up-and-down-can't-contain-my-happiness excited. I had high hopes; however, I had faith that Maureen would deliver.

As it turns out I was one 100% right. Truly Devious just may be Maureen's best work yet! Suspenseful, swoony, and incredibly well written, Truly Devious is a wild ride from start to finish. 

Truly Devious beautifully blends together two murder mysteries - one from the past as well as one from the present. At first I didn't know how Maureen was possibly going to stretch the murder mysteries over three books; however, now that I've finished the book it's crystal clear. There's A LOT at play and I can't wait to see how it unravels. 

Both mysteries are nail-bitting/edge-of-my-seat suspenseful. There's so many twists, so many turns, and so many more connections than I could have ever possibly imagined. Out of the two, however, I think the one from the past hooked me in the most. For one, I enjoyed the flashbacks Maureen offered. It gave insight to the key players from that fateful day - Albert Ellingham, the butler, the FBI detail assigned to Albert, etc -  and each "confessional" introduced an exciting new clue. I also liked that details surrounding the case where slowly revealed. It offered up an extra dose of suspense, especially when Stevie took it upon herself to "re-open" the case. 

The setting also added a layer of chill to the novel. Ellingham Academy is by no means your typical boarding school. It's located in the middle of nowhere, cut-off from civilization in many facets. It also contains crazy artwork, secret hideaways/passages, and a mega mansion. Maureen did such a fantastic job of setting the scene. 

Stevie is great lead!  She's smart, funny, and utterly charming. When the story begins, Stevie is beyond ready to have a fresh start. She never fit in well at home - her conservative parents never understand her, she always does or says the wrong thing, and the majority of her friends are online rather than in person. At Ellingham Acadmey Stevie slowly starts to get comfortable, finding an unexpected home. She makes friends, pursues a boy, and learns how to speak up for herself. I clicked with her from the start, and I loved seeing her embark on this journey.  In addition to Stevie, I enjoyed the wide variety of other characters introduced in the past as well as the present. There were unique as well as complex. My favorite of the bunch, though, is Stevie's love interest. I could never quite figure him out but I loved how he made Stevie more adventurous, more willing to go with the flow.

Overall, Truly Devious is yet another stellar book by Maureen, and given the crazy, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening ending I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Truly, Devious is now out! 

5 stars!! 

Source: eARC provided by HarperCollins - thank you! 

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  1. This book sounds really good, and I've never heard of it before. I'll definitely have to check it out. Thanks so much for sharing your review.

    1. You're welcome! Thanks for stopping by :)

  2. Several of my friends keep telling me I need to try Maureen Johnson's books. I don't know why I haven't read one yet, but after reading your review of Truly, Devious, I think I need to make her a priority for 2018 because this book sounds fantastic!

  3. Wow, this sounds so amazing! Stevie sounds like my kinda girl!


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