Book Review: “Truly Devious” by Maureen Johnson

Cover of "Truly Devious" by Maureen Johnson.
Cover of “Truly Devious” by Maureen Johnson.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing the murder mystery “Truly Devious” by Maureen Johnson! Here’s a quick summary so we know what it’s about:

“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.”

Content Warning:

This book contains descriptions of murder, violence, kidnapping, panic attacks, and discussions of anxiety. Those uncomfortable with this content might want to skip reading this book.

Plot Development: 1 out of 5 stars

The plot’s pacing was incredibly slow, and the investigations taking place felt uneventful, lacking suspense. I also wish the flashback-related mystery had more prominence, considering that was the initial main reason why Stevie came to the school. She wanted to solve the mystery, and she didn’t get the chance to completely solve it. This is partially due to a cliffhanger ending and partially because she simultaneously investigated the much-more-recent death of a classmate.

I also thought the cliffhanger ending came out of nowhere. Yes, I know it’s the first book in a trilogy, but I felt that the twist didn’t make a lot of sense for the plot itself or for the characters it’s supposed to impact.

Character Development: 2 out of 5 stars

I honestly didn’t enjoy reading any of the characters. None of them felt fully developed, and the twist ending with David didn’t make a lot of sense for his development, either. Out of all of them, I liked Nate the most (especially after he tried to help Stevie socialize and calm down by taking her to the party), and I wish there was more of him in the story.

Stevie, the main character, had a deep love of mysteries. That was very obvious throughout this whole story. I also sympathized with her dealing with anxiety and socializing with others. However, I felt that she never had any development otherwise. For example, the dynamic with her conservative parents was a missed opportunity for her development. They had a conflict, but it never got resolved anywhere.

Romance Development: 1 out of 5 stars

I absolutely abhorred Stevie and David’s romance. There was no chemistry between them at all. The fake-dating scenario between them that persuaded the parents to let Stevie stay at the school was not a cute situation to throw into the book, either. There could have been other ways to solve that problem (maybe Stevie gets to stand up to her parents and stand her ground, rather than having to rely on David to stay at the school). Additionally, David doesn’t really care about Stevie’s interests and belittles her for them, especially in the latter half of the book. How these two got together despite this is unfortunate, and I wish the book didn’t spend so much time on their relationship.

Overall, I’m rating this book out 1 of 5 stars!

I definitely would not recommend reading “Truly Devious” if you’re looking for a good murder mystery. Instead, I recommend reading “Longarm And The Diamondback Widow” or even “Murder On The Orient Express.”


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