Truly Devious - Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson
Book 1 of Truly Devious



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.

If I wanted to be honest, it was hard not to compare stories and characters between Truly Devious and The Name of the Star.  Both books involve a young girl starting at a new boarding school.  And both books involve each respective girl's acclimation to this new school, making new friends, learning the culture of the new school, going through classes, and so on.  And of course, both books involve a murder mystery... both of which take a long time to build up to.

And if I really wanted to be honest, I think I found The Name of the Star a bit more enjoyable than Truly Devious.  Don't get me wrong, I liked Stevie enough, but there were times I had a hard time keeping up with her train of thought, as well as understanding her actions.  I took Stevie to be a rather intelligent kid, even if a little unique and different.  So the fact that she keeps getting taken in by Hayes seemed a bit out of character.  The fact that she makes a few questionable decisions during her time at Ellingham Academy seemed forced.

I DID like seeing that Stevie was a rather socially awkward type of person though.  It was a nice touch to her unique personality--her enjoyment of spending time studying crimes instead of going out and being the traditionally stereotyped teenage girl her parents want so badly for her to be.  The conflict between Stevie and her parents brought a rather enlightening addition to Stevie's depth as a character, even if it was also a bit difficult to follow for the purposes of this story.

I want to say that Truly Devious spends a lot of time setting up the world and the series and the story, and while it was also punctuated by tidbits of the Ellingham cold case mystery, it still felt like a whole lot of nothing but mundane happenings took place for the first half of the book.  This was rather a similar set up to The Name of the Star as the excitement didn't truly start until a good percentage into the book.

The difference was that I absolutely loved Rory's voice in The Name of the Star, where she was quirky, fun, and my kind of dry sarcasm, with a hint of normal, everyday girl.  In contrast, Stevie's character seemed to be trying too hard to stand out, and her quirkiness, while cute at times, seemed less endearing and more... well, boring, to say the least.  I didn't have as much fun following Stevie's POV, and I also wished there'd been more fun character interactions.

The only other character I actually liked in this book was Nate, if only because even though he was sullen for most of the book, it came off in a strangely endearing kind of sullen.  Which is strange, because there were moments where I wanted him to just get over himself and participate in life with everyone else.  And then when he DID have brief moments of interactions with Stevie, it was extremely enjoyable.  Too bad it seems like Stevie's love interest is someone else...

As far as mysteries go, the Ellingham cold case is an interesting premise to study, although little hints here and there are leading me to wonder just how many underlying secrets are involved in the entire affair.

As far as the present-day murder mystery, while I didn't really know who the culprit was, I also wasn't surprised at the end about the reveal.  Unfortunately, I also had a hard time following Stevie's logic or deductions, so it took me a while to figure out where she was going with all of her questions and her discoveries.

Finally, the book leaves a lot of loose tangents unresolved, and even the main conflicts remain somewhat open-ended.  But with the ongoing Ellingham mystery still unsolved, I'm absolutely going to continue reading the rest of the series.  I'm just also hoping for some more excitement, or maybe some more character interactions that don't seem steeped in tension, secrets, or evasions.

Otherwise, this book was entertaining enough.



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