Truly Devious: a mystery that keeps you yearning for more


Isabella Bonemer, Staff Writer

Truly Devious
Author: Maureen Johnson

Genre: Crime, Young Adult
Publication date: January 16, 2018
Hardcover: 416 pages

Fast paced yet easy to follow, the YA murder mystery novel “Truly Devious” by Maureen Johnson, indulges into the mysteries of Ellingham Academy. Stephanie Bell, a high school detective, goes to Ellingham Academy after being accepted, embarking on a journey to find out what really happened to Albert Ellingham’s wife Iris, his adoptive daughter Alice and Hayes Major. In a concatenation of flashbacks from 1936-1938, while including Bells’ modern day story, Johnson’s split chronology permits the reader to experience two interconnecting crimes while also telling two different stories. 

In 1936, Dottie Epstein was invited to the new boarding school of Ellingham Academy run by Albert Ellingham. The academy offers the privilege to learn at your own pace and to lose one’s self in their own interests. An abnormal letter, signed “Truly, Devious,” was made up of cut out letters from popular magazines in the form of a poem. Shortly after this letter showed up and Dottie arrived at Ellingham Academy, she was killed along with Mrs. Ellingham and Alice who were both kidnapped by none other than “Truly, Devious.” Ellingham and his friends are then instructed to give money to “Truly, Devious” in order for Mrs. Ellingham and Alice to return home. More and more money vanishes and with no luck, fails to bring his family back. Wistfully, “Truly, Devious,” was still at large.

Present day Stevie Bell, has a wide range of knowledge in criminology and the Ellingham case leading her to believe that she can solve the Ellingham case. Along with her anxiety disorder, petrifying panic attacks, and her worn relationship with each of her parents, Bell encounters new friends like Janelle Franklin and Nate Fisher to help her get through her debilitating disorder. Another student, Hayes Major, a YouTube star, approaches Bell to put forth her knowledge on the Ellingham case to help Fisher write a script for Major’s film. 

Agreeing to make the film with Major because of a secret tunnel, she soon learns how untrustworthy and wily Major turned out to be. One night as the crew was wrapping up, Major returned to the tunnels and was found dead later that night. Bell starts her own investigation leading her to find out about the lies Major has told. Major’s death turns out to be more than an accident. Simultaneously, Bell finds herself falling for David Eastman. She soon gets caught snooping through Eastmans personal belongings to find out more about his family. He mentions his parents are dead and their so-called relationship goes down the drain. Soon after, Fisher convinces Bell to go to a dance together where she finds out more about the cases. Loved by her parents but despised by Bell, she soon discovers that Edward King is a fellow student’s father as he lands his helicopter right as Bell uncovered the truth on the Ellingham case and Major’s death, ending with To be continued…

How Johnson describes Bell’s thought process and other aimless scenarios, are well thought out and incredibly detailed. The inclusion of mental health and diversity can educate readers on the different experiences of different characters. While gaining a deeper look at anxiety disorders and panic attacks, the knowledge of what a person like Bell goes through can help others sympathize with one another’s struggles. Furthermore, Johnson tends to keep readers in a world of adventurous thoughts while also leaving the readers wondering, “what will happen next?” Despite Johnson’s approach to certain scenes in the novel coming off as overly quirky and including awkward commentary, Johnson’s dialogue between Bell and Eastman tends to make up for it. Including the first kiss between the two and the drama they both encounter. 

Additionally, “Truly Devious” is classified as a modern murder mystery and consequently, it’s a thrilling experience all readers should look into.

Truly Devious is available on Amazon and other retail stores in Hard Cover, Paperback, Kindle