In February I finally sat down to read Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. I’d had the e-book for a while, but I just wasn’t in the mood for something like it the last time I picked it up. Since then, I’d also picked myself up a physical copy of the second book, yet I wasn’t any closer to reading them. So when trying to decide on an audiobook to read, I found this one on Scribd – yes, I know I’m supposed to be reading more audiobooks I don’t own on there, but the third one counts for that – I knew that it was about time that I finally got to this one.
This review is only going to cover the first three books. If you’ve heard anything about this series, it’s probably that you should read the main three books one after the other. The Box in the Woods and the new one coming out this year, do follow Stevie and her friends again. But each of those is a standalone mystery in different locations. I plan on reading The Box in the Woods this month, and I’m very excited to do so.
Truly Devious follows Stevie Bell, a teenage girl who wants to one day be a top detective. With some luck, she managed to get into Ellingham Academy, a prestigious academy where only the best students attend and there’s no obvious application. Back in the 1930s, the wife of the school’s founder and their young daughter disappeared after the founder received a mysterious letter. Stevie has been fascinated with this case for years and she plans to solve it.
First, I want to talk about the core Truly Devious books.
Each book has its own individual mystery with new murders, but the main cold case is covered in all three. This was a pretty interesting way to go about this as it does mean that you should be able to read each book even if you have had a break between them. Yet it does not work like that.
When people say you should read all three brooks in one go, they mean it. I really feel for the people who read these books as they came out. You don’t find out who committed which crimes really until the end of books two and three. So if you leave a break between these books, you might not remember some of the clues. The cliffhangers aren’t your typical ones. It doesn’t end at a shocking point where you need to know what happens next. But they do all leave off at a point where it’s clear that you need to carry on now. I feel like maybe the cliffhangers could have been a little bit more interesting. Stevie was very rarely in danger, so something happening to her would have been fun, but a lot of the time it was a very safe mystery.
I did love the cold case aspect. I love media where you have people trying to solve old cases. I think one of the things I love best about them is seeing everything that happened in the past and how things have changed. Seeing all the drama and secrets from the 1930s and watching everything unravel. Some of the aspects were pretty obvious, like who actually wrote the letter, but it was super fun. The two different periods each had different vibes, and it made the novels feel something special, even if some aspects of it were kind-of cliche.
Stevie, as the main character, wasn’t great. In a lot of ways, it felt like she was quirky for the sake of being quirky. Being in her head was sometimes a little annoying, but because I enjoyed the mystery and the other characters, I did carry on with the book. Honestly, thinking back, Stevie did make me roll my eyes more than I realised, but I was so drawn into the story that I didn’t really care. So that’s actually really interesting. I’m usually a very character-driven reader, so to me, this is the sign of a good mystery.
With this book being a YA mystery, there was obviously a romance. But I wasn’t a huge fan of it. Honestly, I wasn’t really a fan of David either. So that means I didn’t really like either character in the main couple…yeahhhh. That’s not good. In the second book, you get the hint that there could be a love triangle, but that guy is put aside pretty quickly. I actually liked him a lot more, but ah well.
What I did like were the friendships. Stevie has a lot of good friends, and there’s plenty of humour there. A lot of these side characters are also queer, which is something I love. The queerness isn’t a plot point, and it doesn’t cause any issues. These characters are just queer people living their lives, which is how it always should be. My favourite character was probably Nate. He’s hilarious. A writer who managed to write and publish a very successful fantasy novel, and now he’s struggling to write the sequel. He does anything he can do to avoid writing his book, too much social interaction, and he’s definitely done with a lot of Stevie’s crap. He’s incredibly adorable, and I love him.
The mystery was definitely the best aspect. The intrigue was pretty high with this book, and I really couldn’t put these books down. I wanted to know who killed who and why and also what had happened to Alice. It does feel pretty obvious what would have happened to her, and I was a little disappointed about what actually happened. But still, the intrigue was very high. I will also add that his series was kind of Danganronpa-esque. You have this school filled with incredibly talented people, all some of the best of what they do, and now one of those students is a detective trying to solve a murder. There’s obviously no killing game and there’s not actually that many murders of students, but it did still give me those vibes.
As I write this review, I do feel like maybe I didn’t love them as much as when I read them. It was very much a series where the intrigue won out, but looking back, I had more issues with it than I realised. I’m not changing my ratings though as I did have such a good time when I read them.
Title: Truly Devious trilogy
Author: Maureen Johnson
Age Range: Young Adult
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books