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Review: Truly Devious series

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

5/5 stars

by Maureen Johnson (2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)

This was so fun. (And there's a fifth one coming out this December!) The first three books are a trilogy - the first two with unmistakably devious cliffhangers. So, if you decide to read these you'll want to get all three out of the library at once so you can read straight through! The fourth (The Box in the Woods) is a bit more of a stand-alone murder mystery.

Stevie is a true-crime fanatic who's just landed a coveted place at a posh, private high school called Ellingham Academy, located in the remote mountains of Vermont. To gain entry she wrote an essay about her enthusiasm for the Academy's historical murder mystery, and her conviction that she can solve this "crime of the century."

The Academy was founded by Albert Ellingham, "an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens." As such, the school is rumored to have secret doors and underground passageways all over. But the real reason Ellingham is famous is that Albert's wife and only daughter were kidnapped shortly after the school opened. His wife, Iris, was found dead in a lake, his daughter was never found, and a young student named Dottie was killed the same night they went missing. The only clue is a threatening letter made from cut-out words from a magazine, and signed "Truly, Devious."

Over the course of the trilogy, Stevie attempts to unearth the truth, but death seems to cling to Ellingham... as some of her fellow students are found dead under suspicious circumstances, Stevie finds ties linking the present-day accidents (murders?) to the Ellingham case.

Stevie and her core group of friends are smart and quirky, their characters well-developed. Yes, there's some slightly cringy young-love stuff - it is set at a high school, after all - but Johnson is careful not to let that fill up too much space. The writing is really clever, and actually had me chuckling aloud at times. And having present-day chapters interspersed with chapters set in Albert Ellingham's time worked really well.

Anyway, three books and multiple murders to solve... Stevie is kept busy! The end of The Hand on the Wall wraps things up tidily. The fourth book takes place the summer after her first year at Ellingham. She is invited to a summer camp to help solve another cold-case. Some of her friends from Ellingham join her, and they go about their sleuthing ways to find a killer who may even still be living in the small, folksy town nearby.

These books were so much fun and I absolutely sped through them. Looking forward to a fifth later this year.

Thank you to Carly LP for the recommendation!


UP NEXT: Sorrowland, by Rivers Solomon

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