Book Club

Truly Devious review by Maureen Johnson

Dear readers,

today I have the pleasure to tell you about Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious, the first chapter of the Truly Devious trilogy. A book full of mystery and intrigue, perfect to read at any time of the year.

Title: Truly Devious
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publication date: 18 October 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: mystery YA
Price: 7.04 $ (paperback on Amazon)
Series: Truly devious # 1

In the midst of the Vermont mountains, shrouded in mist and isolated from everything, is Ellingham Academy, a renowned high school for gifted students. Its founder, Albert Ellingham, wanted to make it a magical and mysterious place, full of puzzles, winding paths and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”
But shortly after the school opened in 1936, his wife and daughter were kidnapped and Dottie Epstein, the brightest student in the class, disappeared into thin air. The only clue found was a mocking riddle listing a number of ways to kill, signed “Sincerely, Wicked”. The case was never solved.
Eighty years later Stevie Bell, an aspiring criminologist, comes to Ellingham Academy with an ambitious plan: to solve that mystery. That is, she will do it as soon as she has settled in and she will have known better her roommates than her: Ellie, the artist passionate about mechanics; Nate, a budding writer who has already published a fantasy but cannot find inspiration for the second book; Hayes, star of YoyTube, who rose to fame with a zombie series; and David, the mysterious nerd on whose account Stevie can’t find anything online or on social media.
Then strange things begin to happen, and all of a sudden the mysterious Sincerely Wicked appears again … And when death visits Ellingham Academy again, Stevie has no doubts: the past has crawled out of the grave. The killer is still around, but this time she won’t get away with it. Because she will keep looking for him.

The enigma of the past merges with the mystery of the present giving life to a breathtaking investigation that will engage Stevie Bell in the next volumes of the series.

The Truly devious series consists of:

  1. Truly Devious
  2. The vanishing stair
  3. The Hand on the Wall

I have a novel that can be right for you! A nice mystery romance that you can’t miss, both for the plot that stirred my curiosity a lot, but also for the very intriguing cover. Reading it was no less, I assure you. So sit back and bring out the investigative streak in you. Let’s go hunting for clues!

The story is set in the mountains of Vermont, where humidity and bitter cold are king. There, on the top of a mountain, is Ellingham Academy, a prestigious school attended by super-gifted kids. A school out of the ordinary, where each student can fully develop their skills and follow their passions, and what’s more, without pulling out a single penny. What more could you ask for?

The founder of this school is Albert Ellingham, a wealthy industrialist from New York who is very good at wasting his money. A man who has remained a little child who still loves to play. Albert Ellingham has created a place where knowledge is the pillar of everything, but personalizing the study according to the student and his personal inclinations. Moreover, the tycoon pushes every single student to play and have fun through riddles that are his passion.

“… and there’s nothing more serious than a game was one of Ellingham’s many mottos.”

The villa itself is a place full of hidden rooms, hidden hatches and secret passages like a mystery playground. A place that is often a bit disturbing at nightfall, but which definitely makes the imagination travel a lot.
Everything seems to be going smoothly, school as Albert Ellingham’s family serenity; but like this place that seems almost straight out of a book of fairy tales, the magic does not last long and immediately after the school opens, on a cold foggy night in 1936, something happens that will totally change the course of events. The peace of this place is broken when a riddle signed by Cordially perfidious arrives.

“The place was, in short, idyllic and extravagant, and could have remained so had it not been for that misty evening in April 1936 when Cordially Perfidious struck.”

In that nefarious night, not only Iris and Alice, Ellingham’s wife and daughter, disappear, but also a young student, Dolores Epstein, who perhaps was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The only clue is the riddle that lists a series of ways she can kill herself. Too little to understand who can hide behind this funny name.
A night of phone calls, of running to different places and of tiring waiting for Ellingham, his right hand man Mackenzie and his trusted man Marsh in a vain attempt to bring the three victims home. Alas Iris, Alice and Dottie will never return home, leaving an unsolved mystery behind them.

Eighty years have passed, and Ellingham Academy is still there, tucked away in the mountains of Vermont ready to welcome promising new students. Stephanie Bell is one of them. A young girl who loves crime and like a young Sherlock Holmes of her time, has decided that school is the perfect place to practice her precocious detective skills. Her only goal is to resolve the case that remained unsolved about eighty years ago. And who is fairer than Stevie Bell, with her insight and her innate powers of observation to do so? Nobody.

In addition to Stevie, five other students of the school will also find themselves irremediably involved in this search for truth: the YouTube star, Hayes Major, who became famous thanks to a post apocalyptic video about zombies, Ellie, a somewhat bohemian artist, then there are Nate and Janelle. He is an aspiring writer with difficulty in writing his next literary masterpiece, while she is an eclectic girl who builds machines of an unknown nature. Finally there is David, from the information that Stevie has gathered, a video game creator but with a decidedly strange and mysterious attitude and often too direct in speaking.

“Stevie felt a shudder again, as if she saw someone she knew well. But it wasn’t possible they’d met before.”

In short, a nice gang that between one lesson and another, little by little, get to know each other. But suddenly, in this normal routine, someone from the past returns with a new encrypted message, a new riddle to solve. Past and present are intertwined under the name of the one who signs himself once again, Cordially perfidious.

The story is told on two different temporal levels: the past, with the events of that now famous night in April 1936 and the present, with our budding detective, Stevie Bell who wants to solve this case.
Stevie is the central protagonist. She is now convinced that she knows everything about that fateful night in 1936 and she knows that she will be able to solve this case that has remained buried in the dust. Stevie has a determined and strong character when it comes to crime and murder, but she also hides a more fragile side. In fact, she often finds it difficult to open up to others and for her interests she has always appeared strange in the eyes of her peers, as well as her parents. Getting acclimated to Ellingham Academy won’t be easy for her, especially when you’re surrounded by quite irrepressible personalities like Hayes who is a true Hollywood star or Janelle who is much more open than her and immediately makes friends, and Ellie who definitely knows how to show off. Then there is Nate, who prefers to stay on top of her and, like her, little loves human contact; and finally there is David, who always displaces her and only her proximity makes her nervous.

“Stevie had often wondered how those talks were going, when people talked about feelings and touching each other and all the things she thought were made to be kept tightly closed in her personal pharmacy.
Now there was someone who wanted to enter, to uncork the vials and take a look at their contents. Stevie didn’t even know that emotions could be talked about so frankly. It wasn’t like that in her house. “

With its different facets, Stevie’s character is the one who certainly attracted my attention the most, also because he is the one who has been characterized more than the others. I think that in the next chapters you will be able to surprise us again. My biggest expectation, however, lies on the evolution of the story and on better discovering the characters of the other characters, especially David.

The novel is decidedly mystery and the setting and the facts create the right atmosphere that actively involves the reader. Even if the investigations and the yellow atmosphere to Agatha Christie are the masters, there is also a small love affair, even if little told. Personally, I find it always fits us well, like the icing on the cake. The beginning could be a bit difficult but I advise you to be patient and not to be knocked down at the first obstacle. Your patience will be amply rewarded. Many things remain hidden by the mystery and this leaves no small curiosity. In fact, I’d say she’ll leave you pretty hungry. I sincerely hope that the second volume will give us more answers. The book lends itself very well to this autumn period and requires a high level of attention, but above all the desire to let yourself be drawn into the story, dressing yourself in the role of a character, perhaps the one who observes everything from a door hidden behind a wall. See you soon!

“The game isn’t fun when you don’t know you’re playing.”

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