Truly Devious: A Mystery by Maureen Johnson

Themes: murder mystery, romance, private school, academia

The synopsis

Ellingham Academy is a private school welcoming America’s brightest students. But the school is famous for another thing: the mystery surrounding the kidnapping of the founder’s wife and daughter in 1936 by the frightening Truly Devious.

Stevie’s passion is solving crimes. So obviously Ellingham is especially attractive for her and she wants to be the one solving this old case. But Truly Devious likes to play and makes his return, giving Stevie more than one mystery to solve.

The review

I know, this book wasn’t on my September TBR but I was in the mood for a mystery and I just kept seeing good reviews for this one.

This book is surprising from the start since you’re expecting to see the kidnapping and not what is actually happening. The chapters alternate between Stevie’s time and 1936, creating echoes between the events happening in both time periods. So, the reader is introduced to both characters from 1936 and present time. As you can guess, the book has numerous characters since it takes place in a boarding school during two different times. The interesting part is the school being basically for geniuses and so the characters don’t think or act as you can expect them to. I particularly liked Nate and his shirt “If you can read this shirt, you are too close”. However, I think this aspect could have been explored further as it’s one of the main characteristics of the plot.

Since she’s the main character, Stevie is the one we get to know the best. Knowledge being a part of her personnality, we learn a lot about criminology and human psychology and these “lessons” are coherently inserted in the plot. For example, Stevie witnesses something and then explains the importance of writting down what she saw without speaking to anyone to avoid modifying her memory. She was quite funny and I liked seeing her adding up the clues to solve the mystery. But for someone whose life revolves around solving crime she doesn’t seem very involved in the Ellingham’s one until the end of the book.

In fact, it seems that this book is mainly to create the slightly unsettling athmosphere of the school, and it’s very well done. I agree with Stevie when she thinks that someone should have told the founder to put less statues but at the same time they’re one of the main elements of this athmosphere. All the descriptions are giving the feeling that something is wrong with this place and this impression is underlined by Stevie’s panic attacks and anxiety. These subjects are treated along with the one of friendship and relationships (I find these are the themes of a lot of YA novels) and I related to that since I am not the most social person on earth. In this setting, it’s easy for the kidnapping to become an obsession. It’s already the case for Stevie when she arrives at Ellingham and it gradually becomes one for the other characters and finally for the reader.

In short: The mystery is interesting even if I was frustrated by the fact that it’s not the main plot of this volume. This one is more an introduction of the kidnapping with a presentation of the setting, athmosphere and main facts which lead to numerous descriptions. Despite this fact, I finished Truly Devious in two days and can’t wait to learn more about the case.

My rating: 4,5/5

Trigger warnings: murder, panic attacks/anxiety

14 thoughts on “Truly Devious: A Mystery by Maureen Johnson”

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