Review: Truly Devious

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery
Maturity Level: 3+
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆

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. 

I was so excited for my first Maureen Johnson book, and this sounded so interesting, and I really *wanted* to love it, but I was just so indifferent to Truly Devious.

There’s nothing wrong with it. The pacing is good, the plot interesting, the mystery well-crafted. The writing is really readable, though not particularly vivid. I just didn’t connect with it at all.

Some of the reason for this, I think, is that Stevie has about as much personality as a brick wall. Her ONLY character trait seems to be that she likes mysteries and crime. Is she funny? Shy? Curious? Hardworking? Friendly? Not really. She’s just … there. The lens through which we view this mystery. But the fact that I didn’t care about Stevie made it impossible for me to get invested in what she was interested in, and therefore the plot. It also makes the romance suuuuuuper dull in my opinion.

The book wasn’t a total loss. By the end I was pretty curious about who the murderer was. I turned pages, I kept reading (barely). I was just underwhelmed, I guess.

Also, I have to say, I’m not crazy about the idea of a mystery series in which the WHOLE series is working on one mystery. I should know what happened at the end, and then book two should be a new mystery. That’s how this goes. That’s how it’s always gone. Maybe I would have been more of a fan of this break from tradition if I’d enjoyed the story more?

Anyway, I definitely think you should read this book if you like YA and/or suspense. Great for fans of Sadie, and bonus is WAY less dark. But it just wasn’t for me. Oh well.

12 thoughts on “Review: Truly Devious

  1. I enjoyed this one, but I do think the books decrease somewhat in quality as the trilogy goes on. The clues are handed a little too easily to Stevie and it’s hard to believe she’s really more intelligent than everyone else who tried to solve the case–she’s just luckier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I noticed that at the end of the first book, too. Like, what are the chances that someone who goes to school with Stevie just *happened* to bring a photo with a magazine letter stuck to the back? That’s luck, not investigative skill.


      1. Right?! The whole trilogy is like that. Stevie just happens to be in a room where something is revealed to her by chance. Hard to believe she was admitted to the school for her deductive reasoning when she never gets a chance to use it. :/

        Liked by 1 person

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