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Maureen Johnson's thrilling mystery series Truly Devious is an intricately crafted murder within a murder. High school student Stevie Bell as an expert at unraveling clues and solving cold criminal cases. She is fascinated by the 1936 disappearance of three-year-old Alice Ellingham from her family's estate nestled in the mountains of Vermont. Stevie is invited to study at the exclusive Ellingham Academy located on the Ellingham Estate. This super sleuth takes on the decades-old case.
Although the narration is third person, Johnson gives readers a glimpse into Stevie's pysche. This high school junior suffers from anxiety and eschews many social conventions. She worries less about her GPA and more about solving crime. Flashes into the workings of her mind are a significant story element.
Truly Devious: A Mystery
Stevie Bell is accepted into the prestigious private Ellingham Academy, a school that encourages high school students to pursue their own interests. The school's buildings and surrounding grounds reflect founder Albert Ellingham's fascination with puzzles and games. There are hidden nooks and secret tunnels throughout the estate. The manor is a character with a major role in the the tragic events, past and present.
There are two distinct casts of characters within the story. The Ellingham family, friends, and household staff have starring roles in the 1936 drama.
Stevie's classmates and the school’s staff comprise the characters in the contemporary murder mystery.
The drama unfolds with intertwined narratives describing past and present Ellingham Academy.
The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious)
When a tragic death on campus is announced, Stevie's parents rush to Vermont and remove her from school. U.S. Senator Edward King intervenes and encourages Stevie to return to the prestigious school. Her parents grudgingly consent.
Things get more complicated when Stevie returns to Ellingham Academy. Two other deaths follow in rapid succession. While they may be accidental, Stevie becomes convinced that the deaths are deliberate.
She sets to work, discovering hidden artifacts and deciphering obscure clues to find the truth about the 1936 tragedies. She becomes certain that she knows precisely what happened but hesitates to share her findings. Who can she trust? Will her information put her or some of her classmates in danger?
The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious)
The final book in the series neatly wraps up the story. Johnson has kept all of the details and plot lines skillfully balanced throughout the series. She deftly catches all the balls she has kept spinning in the air. The hints which have alluded readers from the beginning come together in a smashing, but totally believable conclusion.
All of suspects gather in the Academy's Great House for Stevie's recitation of the events leading up to the murders. She begins her presentation with some solid evidence and a few hunches. Readers will be intrigued with her deductive logic and catch their collective breaths as she delays until the last possible moment to bring forward the most damming piece of evidence.
It's showstopper of an ending.
Fortunately for readers who begin reading the series in 2020, there is no wait.