Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
About the Book
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books | Release Date: January 16, 2018 | Pages: 432
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery | Format: eBook | Source: Gift
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.
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*ahem* THIS ENDING WAS RUDE AND I AM SALTY ABOUT IT. But besides that horrible sin, I absolutely adored this book! I love true crime and so naturally it was as if this book was written for me! This had the feel of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes and definitely speaks to a generation obsessed with True Crime, Unsolved Mysteries, and police procedurals.
“Stevie felt a creeping dread, the kind that comes from cold, untamed spaces and uninterrupted dark and trouble that had no name. There would be trouble tonight.”
Truly Devious is captivatingly crafted and told in two storylines: 1936 and present. The omniscient narrator unravels the 1936 mystery slowly through various character perspectives, newspaper clippings, and police interviews; while the present-day narrative is told largely from Stevie’s point of view. Often times with dual timelines I find myself invested in one over the other, but that wasn’t the case here for me. This is definitely a case of two intersecting timelines working well together and sucking the reader in!
“Six had gone up the mountain, and then there were five.”
Honestly, Stevie’s actions and sharp attention to detail are what one would expect from someone who grew up on true crime and watching CSI. She has knowledge about the procedure and level-headedness that makes her seem older than her years, but not in an unbelievable way. The rest of the characters all (Janelle and Vi for example) could do with some fleshing out, I think that is in large part because they weren’t involved directly with the current mystery. I expect more development will be made as the trilogy continues, and the side characters like Nate and David definitely had more depth to them.
The anxiety rep in this book is AMAZING and honestly? Such a blessing. As someone that suffers from crippling anxiety, it was surprisingly powerful to read a character whose experience mirrors my own. Johnson really nailed the feelings and constant worry that never seem to stop, and I really like that Stevie was a likable character that just deals with anxiety and panic attacks with coping strategies and medication. It is handled like a true medical condition and not just “stress.”
In addition to the anxiety representation, there is also LGBTQIAP+ rep with a f/f pairing and a side character that identifies as nonbinary. None of this representation felt gimmicky or a way to check diversity boxes.
“Games are not fun when you don’t know you’re playing.”
Both timelines were strong and had their own intriguing mystery to solve full of well-developed characters. I did find the pacing to be a little uneven in the middle a bit with the present-day timeline prior to the murder – it could have been a little shorter and would have had the same overall effect, but the narrative never dragged for me.
This is an intricate mystery filled with riddles and clues. Be warned that the ending is a giant cliffhanger, reminding me why I usually steer clear from reading first-in-series when the next book isn’t available yet. I am disappointed by the ending and left feeling a little unfulfilled. While I wish that things would have come to some semblance of a conclusion, I am excited for the next book in the series and think that a lot was set up in this book for Book 2 to hit the ground running! I have a lot of questions that need answers.