Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

(Last Updated On: June 25, 2019)


About the Book

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books  |  Release Date: January 16, 2018  |  Pages: 432
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery  |  Format: eBook  |  Source: Gift

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.

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My Review

*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.

Thank you so much for gifting me this book, Colleen from Colleen’s ConclusionsYou are an absolute treasure and I adore you.

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!


  1. Colleen's Conclusions

    August 12, 2018 at 2:07 PM

    You are welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and that I was able to get it sent to your Kindle! Personal email, not Kindle email…. I keep telling myself that still, LOL. Amazon customer support is so nice and helpful.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      August 13, 2018 at 8:54 AM

      It was so good and you are my bookish hero for rescuing me from my reading slump!

      1. Colleen's Conclusions

        August 13, 2018 at 9:38 AM

        Not a problem! 😀 That reading slump can be harsh.

  2. LairOfBooks

    August 12, 2018 at 4:22 PM

    “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.” UMMM YES PLEASE! I’ve owned a copy for some time now but I’m boosting it way to the top now at the mention of Agatha Christie 🤗🤗🤗 Lovely review! 💜

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      August 13, 2018 at 8:56 AM

      READ IT NOW!!! Honestly it was so good and I can’t wait to hear what you think – just beware of the cliffhanger ending, but we can whine together about waiting until January for book 2.

      1. LairOfBooks

        August 14, 2018 at 10:44 AM

        👀 seriously! This is the motivation I NEEDED!!! 💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻 going to aim to squeeze it into my September TBR 🤗

  3. Christine

    August 12, 2018 at 6:01 PM

    Oh, this sounds good!! …Especially since the ending left you salty. Now I AM SO INTRIGUED!!! I am just getting back into mysteries, shhhhh.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      August 13, 2018 at 8:57 AM

      LMAO of course you would be intrigued by my pain from the cliffhanger ending! This is such a good mystery, I hope you pick it up and can be tortured waiting for more with me!

  4. fictionnochaser

    August 13, 2018 at 5:51 AM

    So glad you enjoyed this one!! Great review!!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      August 13, 2018 at 9:03 AM

      Thank you so much, this was such a great read & I NEED MORE!

  5. Norrie

    August 13, 2018 at 10:30 AM

    Oh cliffhangers… eeee…
    I do love the sound of Agatha Christie vibes tho <3

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      August 13, 2018 at 12:21 PM

      I freaking hate cliffhangers but this book is so good I can’t be too mad about it.
      It’s more of one story told across three books so if you would be bothered by no answers by the end of book 1 I might recommend waiting until January when book 2 is released. The Agatha Christie vibes were STRONG!

  6. confessionsofayareader

    August 14, 2018 at 9:21 AM

    Great review! I really need to read this one.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      August 14, 2018 at 9:26 AM

      Thank you, and I hope you enjoy it as much as me when you pick it up!

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  8. libby @ dimscreen

    August 14, 2018 at 1:04 PM

    This sounds a little spooky but really intriguing! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and hopefully the wait for the sequel isn’t too painful!!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      August 15, 2018 at 7:55 PM

      Not too spooky, but definitely a good mystery! I hope I can patiently wait for book 2 hehe

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