„Truly Devious”, by Maureen Johnson – review


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.


A killer who’s identity is yet to be discovered, a crime that remained unsolved, a brilliant student whose death seems to be just a part of the great, mind blowing puzzle created by one devilish thinking: all come together in this new, suspense-filled book by Maureen Johnson.
Truly Devious unearths the mysteries and traps of the human mind through Stevie, one seemingly ordinary student, who strongly believes that her arrival at Ellingham Academy, the ideal place for ideal students – brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists, is a mistake.  But the killer of the founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter must be discovered and Stevie seems to be the only person capable of revealing the unknown secrets of the past.

“Shock is a funny thing. Things get both sharp and fuzzy. Time stretches and distorts. Things come rushing into focus and seem larger than they are. Other things vanish to a single point.”

 The story begins with Stevie being left by her parents on mountain Vermont, on which the private school is found, with the belief that she can’t possibly belong to the type of people that are chosen to learn and live here. While she knows almost everything about the crimes that took place at Ellingham Academy, in 1936, she doubts the fact that her passion for this unsolved mystery and for Agatha Christie’s  books that taught her how to analyse crime scenes and the typical criminal-like behaviour, would be of any help in solving this famous case.
Throughout the fast moving plot, Stevie finds herself handling her actions by relating to her favourite characters, such as Hercule Poirot, which provides her  with a clear state of mind and helps her to get an objective perspective on people’s behaviour.

“Where her books were, she was. Get the books right and the rest will follow. Now she could address the rest of the room.” 

Truly Devious follows both the actions that took place in 1936 and the situation in the present at the school. The way in which the characters are described, focusing mainly on their psychological struggles that could trigger a murder or the mere thought of killing, struck me as being really impressive and unusual. While the plot revolves around  Stevie’s trouble in solving the case of the past and presents murders, it gives a fascinating insight into other characters’ inner conflict, based on various grounds that are gradually revealed.

“How are you so smart?” Stevie asked. “I read a lot,” Janelle said, smiling. She unzipped the front of her bag, shoved her pass inside and secured the lanyard to a clip, and zipped the bag back up again. Janelle did everything completely, even putting her pass away. “And I’m just amazing.” 

Truly Devious is well worth reading, if you enjoy a gripping plot and a story that will keep you at the edge of your seat. I couldn’t be involved in any other action until I finished reading it and it left me with a cliff hanger that I desperately need solving for.


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