Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
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.
It took me way to long to get to this book. I love YA mystery/thrillers and I have the first two and the third pre-ordered. I am so glad now! I devoured this one and I’m already over 100 pages into the next book.
Maureen Johnson did such a good job with having two mysteries in one book from two different time periods. The original Truly Devious kidnapping/murders took place in 1936. We get to read short chapters from that time period throughout the book along with some of the police interviews. The crime is still unsolved. There was someone charged, but most people don’t believe he did it. Mostly because he didn’t speak English well enough to make up the Truly Devious letter.
Albert Ellingham was a strange man. He started Ellingham academy in a remote are of Vermont for students. They could be rich or poor. They didn’t have to pay for this school and he wanted it run a different way. Albert was obsessed with games and riddles. One day, his wife and daughter go missing along with another student, Dottie. Albert’s daughter, Alice, was never found. He never gave up hope that she was alive and would come back one day.
Stevie is a bit of an odd kid and she is obsessed with true crime (me, too). She applied to Ellingham because she is determined to solve the mystery. She isn’t very social and has really bad anxiety. Stevie knows two people from online that are starting at Ellingham. She’s excited because Janelle and Nate are really her only friends and they finally get to meet. Stevie is also happy to get away from her conservative parents that volunteer for a senator Stevie hates. The school chose different types of students instead of just traditionally smart kids. Janelle is into engineering and Nate is a writer. There is also an actor, a free spirit artist, a game programmer, and others. Mostly non traditional studies for a high school and everyone gets a special schedule and project.
The actor, Hayes, decides he wants to do a new film series about the Ellingham mystery. The old tunnel was cleared and he thought it would be the perfect place to film. He gets Stevie, Nate, and a couple others to help them. Stevie is the expert on the crime.
Things go wrong when a student is found dead. It’s thought to be an accident, but was it? Stevie can’t just let it go and starts searching for clues. She starts to wonder if she can trust any of her new friends, especially David, the boy she has been kissing. While focusing on the new death, Stevie finds new clues to the original crime.
The pacing was great and the book was hard to put down. I started the second book within ten minutes of finishing this one. I was left with more questions after finishing it. This is the type of series that I absolutely love.
I gave this book 4 1/2 stars rounded up to 5 on Goodreads. It was very close to 5 for me anyway.
Warnings for kidnapping, murder, death, crappy parental relationships, anxiety, teenage drinking and drug use, and some wealth snobbishness. Also a bit on politics that felt similar to right now in the US.
Have you read Truly Devious? It’s one of our group reads for August on TBR and Beyond.