Truly Devious Trilogy by Maureen Johnson {Book Review}

This is another series now in the list of ‘I’m not too sure how I heard of this, but I really liked it’. It might have been amazon’s shopping algorithm but I saw this, read the synopsis and figured it was worth the shot/money. And the short of it? I really, really enjoyed this series from start to finish! It isn’t necessarily anywhere near a Sherlock Holmes vibe, or the murder mysteries we get through PBS/BBC but it had me tense and waiting to find out what happened next. Spoilers ahead since this is a series review. All the books are broken down separately but I don’t want to catch anyone off guard.


The Truly Devious Trilogy follows two mysteries; one set in the modern era with Protagonist Stevie Bell, and the other set in the 1930s as one of America’s richest men, Albert Ellingham loses his wife and daughter after the arrival of a dark and mysterious note. Later known as the Truly Devious letter, the entire crime goes down as one of the great mysteries. No one has managed to piece together what happened. Nothing though stays a mystery, as Stevie gets accepted at the exclusive Ellingham Academy with the sole purpose of solving the unsolvable. Armed with every bit of evidence she could find online, and extreme curiosity, she dives head first into the crime, but even after almost a century Truly Devious brings danger back to the Academy.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Book 1: Truly Devious (4 out of 5 stars)

Truly Devious was a great start to the series as it sets us up with the very beginning of the Ellingham Academy, and what Albert had dreamed for it. It does make for a sad story as all the events we know will happen finally do occur, but it made the story that much more tense and dark for me. The school at that time is a mix of rich kids from the Ellingham circle, and the kids that Ellingham knew had great academic potential or talents. It’s essentially a school to cultivate the greatest minds, and it’s all done in the Great Depression time period. In my opinion that ends up being an important detail, given Ellingham’s wealth in terms of setting a perspective for the crime, and everything connected with it.

I think, if I had to choose my favorite book in the series, this one would be it. It sets the tone for the mystery really well, invests the reader in the how, what, and question of why, all while building a new mystery in the current time period. I didn’t really have any cons while reading this first book, beyond that the mystery we are reading isn’t necessarily done/written how we typically have mysteries. Instead of having the typical micro clues that begin to stack up for the reader to solve, we are learning with Stevie, who guides us a lot. For some readers that may and has taken down the rating for this book. While I would have liked to have been solving the clues a little myself, the book still kept me on edge, and entertained to read the next two books, so it didn’t bother me too much.

Book 2: The Vanishing Stair (4 out of 5 Stars)

When it comes to the characters of the series, this series had a great mix of personalities, and relationships. Along the path to solving the mystery we get a good feel for who Stevie is, what drives her, and importantly her strengths/weaknesses, some of those weaknesses being her social skills and her detective drive. Stevie though, is a really good protagonist, and we get to see her work to fix the all in, dangerous drive of her need to solve the mystery. The character that tends to irk me from this book onward is David. There are obvious holes in his life story as they all open up about themselves in the first book, and it definitely had me on the fence with him from the beginning of book one and into the last. I get it, he’s had a hard past from what we can tell, but there were quite a few times he really made me want to bang my head against the wall. I still shipped him and Stevie, don’t doubt I did, but I was questioning myself during the last two books because of his crazy shenanigans.

Book 3: The Hand on the Wall (4 out of 5 Stars)

Beyond David being his thorn in our sides self, this was exactly what the tension, mystery, and story felt like it was building up to. Stevie definitely went into this book with everything on the line, determined to finally solve the Truly Devious mystery as well as the deaths currently stacking upland it shows. I think I picked this one up and inhaled it, pages flying as Stevie worked hard to find all the missing pieces of the puzzle. Albert Ellingham’s story also really pulled me in in this book as all the events get to what he himself had known about the disappearances. I really enjoyed this finale to the series, and didn’t have any cons coming out of this one. It isn’t the typical mystery in how it’s written, but it makes me want to read one for sure, and still holds it’s own. I would definitely recommend this one to those who like books with danger, tension, and an air of mystery. It makes for a really good drama, and is worth the hype in my opinion.

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