{Review Redux} TRULY, DEVIOUS by Maureen Johnson

Last night, I finished reading the brand-new sequel to TRULY, DEVIOUS entitled THE VANISHING STAIR and then started messaging someone else who had just read it so we could compare notes and theories. I'll be reviewing it really soon (Spoiler-free, of course!) within the next week or so, and I was thinking that maybe you haven't read the first book yet. I feel like it isn't super well known, even though it is a fantastic YA mystery. (Plus, it's now available in paperback!)

I WILL warn you that this is a trilogy and that both books so far leave readers with new questions wanting more answers -- answers we'll have this time next year. I know some readers like to wait and binge a series when it's like this. I also know I want to re-read both books next year because there are so many clues laid down and theories I have that I may forget in a year -- and I already know there are clues that I didn't pick up on when reading for the first time but will upon a re-read! THAT is the marking of a great book, don't you think?

If you love mysteries, you DEFINITELY need to pick this series up!

Here is a re-post of last year's review for the first book to whet your appetite:

O P E N I N G   H O O K:


Photographic image of letter received at the Bellingham residence on April 8, 1936:

(Pages X-XX, US hardcover edition)
This review was first posted at A Backwards Story on January 29 , 2018.

"Stevie Bell had a simple desire: She wanted to be standing over a dead body."

Looking for a good mystery where you get TWO murders for the price of one? Look no further than Maureen Johnson's latest novel, TRULY, DEVIOUS. Even better? The novel is the first in a trilogy, so there's more to be had, and readers won't be able to get enough of wannabe-detective Stevie Bell.

Ellingham Academy was founded by twentieth century tycoon Albert Ellingham, who thought learning was fun and wanted to bring free education to the brightest minds. Each year, the Academy takes in 50 students for their junior and senior years of school.

Within the first year of the Academy's existence, however, Ellingham's  wife and daughter are kidnapped. The wife's body is found, but his daughter, Alice, is never recovered. Ellingham is never able to move on, and eventually, tragedy claims his life as well.

Yet Ellingham Academy continues to thrive. This year, Stevie Bell is one of the students accepted into its hallowed halls. She loves studying true crime and wants to work for the FBI when she's older. She's always been fascinated by the Ellingham Murders and wants to be the one to crack open the cold case. Yet she doesn't quite know what she's asked for, especially when one of her fellow students is killed. Could Truly, Devious be making a comeback 80 years later?

Readers will be enamored with Stevie Bell, who has great character ticks and eccentricities that flesh her out and make it easy to root for her. Her mind is always working, and it's interesting to see the world through her analytical eyes and step into a different mindset. She has the makings of a great detective and is on the right career path in life. How will she keep finding clues over the next two books, and can she solve the mystery of Truly, Devious? Has Truly, Devious made a re-appearance, or is Stevie experiencing an over-active imagination because she wants to solve the cold case so badly? Is her anxiety playing a role in all of this and winding her up? (By the way, it's awesome that Johnson showcases anxiety and adds in the issues that can crop up so deftly without making it a focal point of the novel!) Could her classmate have been murdered instead of an experiment gone wrong? Stevie wants to know all the answers, and readers will be right there next to her hoping to find more clues!

The great thing about TRULY, DEVIOUS is that it is the first in a series and readers won't be saying goodbye to Stevie Bell and her friends for a while. The only downside to this being a series? Neither mystery will be fully resolved by the book's end. This isn't one of those series where the main character solves the mystery at the end of the day and goes on to solve more mysteries. I was kind of hoping it would be that sort, just because I don't like waiting. I like my resolution! TRULY, DEVIOUS features a compelling world and readers will want answers, so they'll be eager to pick up the rest of the series. If you like knowing all the answers KNOW, you may want to wait and read all three books together. Otherwise, dive right in now because the first book will take you on a twisty ride!

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG ( kissing )
Language: PG13 ( A couple of f-bombs, the term "don't be a dick," light sexual innuendo that may go over young heads )
Violence: PG ( Murdered characters, though nothing graphic is shown )
Other: PG ( A It's mentioned in passing that a couple of students were smoking a bowl)
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I like how it's a bit blurry, not quite in focus. I also like how it could be chalk or spray paint  because some of the students are super artsy and would make a cover like this!  The vines piercing the title and looming in the background add a sense of danger, as does the author's name (and the blurb) written in blood red.
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Maureen Johnson
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Received: For Review


New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson weaves a delicate tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a striking new series, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and E. Lockhart. 

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. 

The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.