Book Series Review : Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Honestly? I’m scared starting a mystery series because I do not believe in myself I could hold on THAT long for the answer. There are some mystery series that I ended up “not buying” which means “no reading” because of the reason above. However, Truly Devious got my attention.

First, because it’s a freaking mystery.

Second, because of the hype.

Third, because of the hype.

And fourth, because of the hype.

Let’s head to the review!

1. Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) by Maureen Johnson

Genre : Mystery, Young Adult
Page : 416 pages
Published : 16th January 2018

— Blurb —

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, 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 has gotten away with murder.

The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.

— Mini Review —

“When you have enough power and money, you can dictate the meanings of words.”

Holly Molly! This book has the most eye-catchy opening chapter ever! I was giddy, excited and full of anticipation of what shall come next. Also, I bet 80% on myself that this is going to be fun. The moment I start reading, I could tell that something big is coming and this include a seriously big mystery.

I don’t know about others but it’s a bit hard for me to absorbed the book. I couldn’t put myself to feel and to get lost in the story. However, the book is very riddles-worthy that you won’t ever had the right guess for the answers. Ever. Reading this book, I was shocked that it also has what I called as “the-revelation” moment since this is the first book and I am not expecting some big mystery-solver in it.

However, this book goes on slower than I’d love to. It is a mystery novel and I know what the problem is in the book, but sometimes it feels like I am not reading a mystery at all. Sometimes this book focused more on the bunch of students trying to fit in their new life. But the characters is also one of the things you may expect reading the book.

“The people who worry are always right. That’s how that works.”

2. The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2) by Maureen Johnson

Genre : Mystery, Young Adult
Page : 369 pages
Published : 22nd January 2019

— Blurb —

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.

— Mini Review —

“Anxiety and excitement are cousins; they can be mistaken for each other at points.”

You could say I am quite curious to start this second book after the ending in the first book. Despite what happen in the previous book, this book started slow with much more revelation to explore. It’s thicker of mystery than the previous and again, much more revelation and flashback.

Also, I kind of understand what this book is trying to achieve. I like how this book is trying to invite and make new readers join in the fun by making them understand and probably trying to refresh current readers memory. But personally, I think the way it was being delivered was kind of not effective? Rather than introduction, this book is sometimes being repetitive.

However, the story is getting better and I expect to see more after this.

“You have to try. Trying is the first step to whatever comes next.”

3. The Hand On The Wall (Truly Devious, #3) by Maureen Johnson

Genre : Mystery, Young Adult
Page : 369 pages
Published : 21st January 2020

— Blurb —

Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .

She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.

Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

— Mini Review —

“The wonderful thing about reality is that it is highly flexible. One minute, all is doom; the next, everything is abloom with possibility.”

I think my mini review is getting shorter and shorter as the book progress ~( ´•︵•` )~ Like, it’s really ‘mini’ right now. There might be many reasons but the main one is because I do not remember much about this book since it has the same ambience and flow as the previous two books. Everything is jumbling and mixing inside my head as I write this review a day after finishing the series.

While the second book is thick with revelation, this third book somehow consist a tiny bit of politics and the main goal of this book is to find the present-time murderer. The thing is, I’m surprised but I’m not surprised? It’s creative and it’s been a whole lots of journey to get to this part but I couldn’t help but to say “that’s it?

However, I like the teamwork that is shown more in this third book.

“Every contact leaves a trace.”

The Mystery

These series show how good a mystery series could be on the very first page of the book. The kind of page that set your expectation high and let you assume many restless mystery inside. I just want to state, that this book is indeed a good mystery series but it’s not my favourite kind of mystery book.

But you must know that I highly admire the mystery-motive and the mystery-plot. Because boy! that is just so clever. The mystery plot is complicated and it’s a cold case we’re talking about with no evidence. What I am sad about is the way they’re being developed. These series has a very strong base mystery from the very beginning but it was not developed that well.

Also, there are mystery in the series but it’s not thick enough to keep me awake to find out more about all of this mystery-mess. One part it’s mysterious and the next part it’s all about the students life and business which, I know it’s important to create the actual plot, but I think it spend too much time on that for a mystery series.

The Riddles

This is what hooked me in the book.

The riddles.

Because it’s genius and clever and amazing and I couldn’t even afford a guess to the riddles.

Although it’s not much, but it’s something you can expect to when you decided to read the book!

The Characters

I like the main character.

And I like her friends.

The unique part about this book is the characters are told to be exceptionally genius in their own field. But again, personally, rather than showing the readers how genius the characters are, sometimes I feel like it’s trying to plant a seed to the mind that the characters are genius because the book suggest them to be one. Not because of their action as a genius. Only several chosen characters truly proves to be one. But it’s my opinion so it might be different on you ( ̄▽ ̄)ノ

Another thing. I think it’s might just be me alone thinking this way, that I sometimes do not understand fully what the characters are talking about. It’s not their scientific conversation, but it’s their daily and small talk that I find it hard to grasp into. Like it aim to humour but it backfires and somehow confused me (Well.. not happening every time but sure it’s often) Again, it might be me alone feeling this way because English is obviously not my first language (I think you could even guess from my messy writing #Oops) (๑◔‿◔๑)

The Series


We’re talking about the series as a whole.

As I stated above and I’m going to state it again, this series has a good mystery base and that is what driven me read the whole three books ( Also the fact that I rarely DNF books because I’m a curious soul )

But what had been exciting at first, turn out to be more like, um, responsibility? because I feel like it seems to drag on forever with no real mystery going on sometimes. This series somehow lack in action and sometimes, in mystery. Because what keeps this book intact is the base structure of the mystery that is revealed bits by bits with the surprising revelation at the end of each books.

Also, I’m not saying this to sway your decision regarding the book. Please do read the book if you want to, because my opinion might be very different from yours (and because I think I’m in minority) but personally, I feel like the book might be more gripping if three books are combined into one. 

Because there are a lot of (what I think) as narratives that are sometimes quite unnecessary. I think I might appreciated the series more if it was packed into one action mystery gripping book. I’m not saying to make it huge (because huge books are deadly scary) but maybe slightly thicker than the usual mystery piece? With the action, mystery and everything else fused into one. It might be epic.

But reading this book introduced me to a whole new level of mystery.

Because Wow.

This series made me guessing until the end of the book. Actually, I’m not even sure I did some guessing because I literally had no idea at all. It’s a clean murder with clever riddles and genius method. I just wished that the revelation might be more grand. Because even with the surprising leads or surprising finds, the emotion in the book is quite.. bland.

Anyway, despite my review above about the pros and cons, I think it still made a good mystery series and please, do not make this review hinder yourself to read this series. Because who knows? It might be one of your favourite reads this year 乁༼☯‿☯✿༽ㄏ

Author : Celine


6 thoughts on “Book Series Review : Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

  1. Can I just say you have such excellent taste in books and that you read all the books I still need to read ;-). I have the first one (since forever) but I haven’t read it yet. I do love mysteries and riddles so it’s looking good to me. I had no idea this was a series though, I’m not that good at following series. Anyway thanks for your wonderful mini-reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awhhh stop making me blush😭 I’m so glad you enjoy my reviews and I’m so happy to find a friend who loves mysteries and riddles just like me! Thank you for always stopping by Inge! Your support means a lot to me and never failed to make me smile!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How interesting! I’m intrigued by the riddles, because at the moment I’m considering incorporating some riddle-like messages into my current wip novel. It’s just a question of getting the wording right.

    Liked by 1 person

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