Thanks to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: Available Now
Synopsis: 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 becomes 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 synopsis of Truly Devious immediately grabbed my attention. And then much to my delight, Maureen Johnson’s dedication read:
For anyone who has ever dreamed of finding a body in the library.
Right there I had a hunch I was going to love this book. But wait. It gets even better! On the first page is the image of a letter sent to Arthur Ellingham in 1936.
Look! A riddle!
Time for fun!
Should we use
A rope or gun?
Knives are sharp
And gleam so pretty
Which is a pity
Fire is festive,
Ropy way to go
A broken head
A nasty fall
A car colliding
With a wall
Bombs make a
Very jolly noise
Such ways to
Punish naughty boys
What shall we use?
We can’t decide
Just like you cannot
Run or hide
Well, if you could have seen me at this point, you may have feared for my sanity, as I was chortling and rubbing my hands together in anticipation. And I’m happy to say that for the most part I was not disappointed.
The characters were well-rounded and diverse. Stevie suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, but talks her parents into allowing her to attend the Ellingham Academy because she’s obsessed with the tragic unsolved mystery of the Ellinghams. She dreams of a career in law enforcement and is determined to solve this cold case. She’s extremely smart but socially awkward due to her anxiety issues. I was completely in her corner from the very beginning.
The secondary characters are intriguing and quirky. I especially liked Stevie’s best friend Janelle who is very sweet and supportive. I also loved Nate who seems to always be there for Stevie while at the same time he’s constantly agonizing over the novel he’s writing. I wasn’t overly fond of the romance between Stevie and David. I didn’t like David and the romance just felt forced, but it wasn’t a huge part of the story so it didn’t bother me too much.
The plot(s) had me completely hooked from the first page, despite being a slow burner. The story switches between the two timelines seamlessly. Both mysteries kept me guessing and even at the end, I was as baffled as I was in the beginning. Speaking of the ending, you’re going to either love it or hate it. Very little is given in the way of answers which is frustrating, but it perfectly sets the stage for the next book.
Overall I found Truly Devious to be a fun and engaging YA mystery which in a way brought me back to my Nancy Drew days. It’s filled with memorable characters and the while the cliffhanger ending made me want to hurl my Kindle across the room, it has me eagerly anticipating the sequel. I would definitely recommend this to any mystery loving reader.