Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1)
By Maureen Johnson
Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: True crime buff Stevie Bell has been admitted to Ellingham Academy, an ultra-exclusive school with a tragic history. Its namesake and founder, Albert Ellingham, was a wealthy industrialist whose wife and daughter were kidnapped. Although someone was arrested and convicted of the crime, Steve doubts his guilt. So she’s at Ellingham to solve the case and finally discover the real identity of Truly Devious, the author of a threatening letter that Albert Ellingham received shortly before his family was taken. Soon, however, Stevie finds herself with two possible cases to investigate when another death occurs at Ellingham Academy and the clues increasingly point towards murder.

Review: Having very much enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London books, I was eager to check out Truly Devious, the first novel in a new series. I’m not a huge mystery reader, but after finishing this expertly plotted book, I have a new appreciation for the genre.

Truly Devious follows Stephanie “Stevie” Bell, a true crime fan who is about to begin her first year at the super exclusive Ellingham Academy, a private school that was once the scene of an infamous crime: the kidnapping of the wife and daughter of the school’s wealthy founder, Albert Ellingham. While an arrest was made and the case seemingly closed, Stevie is among those who do not believe that the authorities found the actual Truly Devious, the author of a threatening letter that Ellingham received days before the abduction of his family. Stevie arrives at the school ready to solve the case and uncover the real identity of Truly Devious.

The book shifts between the present, where Stevie’s story takes place, and the past, where we witness firsthand, sometimes in agonizing detail, Albert Ellingham’s life unravel from the moment he receives the terrifying phone call that his wife and daughter have been taken. Johnson intertwines the two timelines brilliantly. Both Stevie’s sleuthing, which is the real thing and not amateurish at all, and the backstory behind her whole reason for applying to Ellingham Academy in the first place are equally compelling. If the entire book had been set during Albert Ellingham’s time, I still would have read it.

As much as Stevie is driven to solve the Ellingham case, she also finds herself dealing with adjusting to a new school that her parents don’t exactly approve of as well as managing her anxiety. The latter was something that I could absolutely relate to, and I thought it was portrayed very realistically.

Another layer is added to the plot when death strikes Ellingham Academy again, and Stevie starts to suspect that it wasn’t accidental. As she tries to piece together the full picture of the victim’s life, both Stevie and the reader learn that not everything is at it appears with her classmates. I love how the tension and suspense build around both cases. Who’s responsible for this latest death? Could one of Stevie’s own classmates be the culprit? Who was really behind the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham back in the 1930s? Could the two crimes possibly be related?

The answers to these questions are not fully resolved by the end of Truly Devious. I wasn’t disappointed by this, however. Quite the opposite—I liked that there were no easy solutions wrapped up in a bow here. One minor thing that I wasn’t so keen on was the romance. It felt rushed, and I wasn’t as invested in it as I was in seeing all of Ellingham Academy’s dark secrets revealed. I’m definitely hooked on this series now and can’t wait to dive into the sequel, even if it only deepens the mysteries surrounding this seemingly unfortunate school.

All in All: An absorbing mystery/thriller with just the right amount of suspense. You can really feel the ominous shadow of Truly Devious that hangs over Ellingham Academy. Highly recommended!


  1. I love it when a book gives you a new appreciation of a genre you'd previously overlooked. Great review!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. Reading this has definitely piqued my interest in mystery books! It left me so intrigued that I almost immediately went and bought the sequel!

  2. This sounds awesome! I do love mystery novels but I tend to stick to classics like Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. But I do love newer thrillers, too, and this sounds just perfect. Awesome review!

    1. I think that if you enjoy classic mysteries, you'd probably enjoy this one, too, especially since the MC, Stevie, is a fan of both Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. :)


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