I didn’t know that Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson Young Adult was part one of a planned trilogy when I first picked it up, but it makes sense that it would be.  The tent-pole mystery is a decades old cold case with no leads, and then there is another crime to solve.  A lot for one precocious teen.  Plus, it would be a waste to spend such a short time with the intriguing characters in the idyllic Vermont setting in the too-good-to-be-true Ellingham Academy.   

Truly DeviousPublisher’s Summary: 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.

One of the things I like best about Truly Devious is that the two mysteries propel the story and not the YA formula – “oddball teen, misunderstood by the popular peer group and her well-meaning but oppressive parents meets a romantic interest and feelings swing widely between attraction and repulsion and/or distrust.”

Of course, the Maureen Johnson is an experienced author of mysteries for young adults including The Name of the Star and The Madness Underneath Johnson understands that the genre requires a light touch, but not an absence of menace.  There is both humor and depth.

For example, when Stevie first arrives at school with her parents, she feels their unvoiced desire for her to be sociable and fit in for once. As Stevie sarcastically describes it:  Few words are more chilling when put together than ‘make friends.’  But teens are not immune to larger social and political realities:  When you have enough power and money, you can dictate the meanings of words.

Truly Devious is a well paced read and will appeal to those who enjoy mysteries and puzzles.

Happy Reading, Susan C.

 Also by Johnson:

Name of the Star



The Name of the Star– Rory, of Boueuxlieu, Louisiana, is spending a year at a London boarding school when she witnesses a murder by a Jack the Ripper copycat and becomes involved with the very unusual investigation.




13 Little Envelopes



13 Little Envelopes – When seventeen-year-old Ginny receives a packet of mysterious envelopes from her favorite aunt, she leaves New Jersey to criss-cross Europe on a sort of scavenger hunt that transforms her life.




Tales of the Shadowhunter



Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy – This collection of e-novellas written by Cassandra Clare, in collaboration with other authors, chronicles Simon’s journey from amnesia to Ascension, as he works to regain his lost life while attending the Shadowhunter Academy.



Madness Underneath



 The Madness UnderneathAfter her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Devereaux is back in London to help solve a new string of inexplicable deaths plaguing the city.


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