I’ve enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s books in the past and I thought that Truly, Devious had all the hallmark MJ characteristics, which made me happy … and worried.
Check out my full review of Truly, Devious below!
Published on January 16, 2018 by Harper Teen
Source: eARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Synopsis adapted from Goodreads: Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon. Shortly after the school opened, Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle 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 got away with murder.
My thoughts: I’ve read all Maureen Johnson’s books, most recently the first two books in her Shades of London series. And that is why I can say that while I enjoyed some aspects of Truly, Devious, I’m also a little torn and nervous about reading further.
To me, this book has a very similar vibe to The Name of the Star, the first book in the Shades of London series. In my Goodreads review of The Name of the Star, I wrote: “To enjoy this book, you have to slow down and enjoy the journey: the quirky details about London, the boarding school stuff, and Rory’s humorous asides about her eccentric relatives in the South.” Truly, Devious also moves at a leisurely pace, touring you around the Ellingham Academy along with main character Stevie in lots of detail. Like Rory, Stevie spends lots of time obsessing about her parents who, to her horror, volunteer for a conservative politician she abhors. Both books feature a large and quirky cast of students and adults.
Both books involve crimes in both the present and the past (Jack the Ripper in the Shades series and the 1936 kidnapping of the Ellingham Academy benefactor’s wife Iris and three year old daughter Alice and then the murder of a student in Truly, Devious.) I thought this worked well in both books. In Truly, Devious, the narrative actually switches between the past and present.
I actually felt a lot more invested in the 1936 mystery than in the present day one (won’t say what the present one is for spoiler protection purposes.) While the 1936 kidnapping story is told in a straightforward way, the present day crime gets a little … muddly. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that I’m not sure if I’m supposed to think that the same evil force continues to commit crimes 82 years later, that the (now 79 year old) missing Alice Ellingham is alive and a homicidal maniac, that the mansion is haunted/cursed, or … what. Pretty much anything is possible (and I say that as a compliment to the author!)
Now, let’s get to the worrisome parts of both series for me: the plotting and the romances.
Those were the aspects of the Shades of London books that ultimately made me pause my reading of the series. (I read the first two books but am waiting until the fourth and final book is published to decide if I’m continuing.) The romance situation got extremely messy, and some of the plot twists were really out-there and took things in directions I wasn’t entirely on board with.
The romance in Truly, Devious was …. interesting. Stevie is a somewhat awkward character, which I appreciated. She’s obsessed with true crime (and the Ellingham case in particular) and suffers from anxiety. Perhaps because of the anxiety, she did read a little young to me. Her love interest, to me, was odd and very off-putting. Was he supposed to be brooding and aloof? Not sure, but I didn’t understand his appeal. At all. I read this book along with my friend Karen from From What It’s Worth and, while I will let her express her own feelings, I’ll just say that the romance was something we puzzled over a lot. While I wouldn’t mind a change in love interest, I’m hoping that the romance situation doesn’t get weird and complicated like it did in Shades.
Next, there’s a reveal at the end of Truly, Devious. I won’t say or even hint at what it was, but will just say that I saw a couple people on Goodreads saying “whoa that ending!” I guess my expectations went in a different direction, because when I got to that reveal I was like “huh.” (Not “huh?” but “huh.”) Perhaps because of my worry about future plot twists, I didn’t make me more excited to read on. It made me a bit more worried as to where things might be going.
Bottom line: I really do want to know who kidnapped poor Alice Ellingham, so I will check out reviews for the next book.
Have you read Shades of London or posted a review of Truly, Devious? Let me know your thoughts in comments.