The Children’s Book Review | February 5, 2017
Maureen Johnson’s Selfie with Truly Devious
Truly Devious is about Stevie Bell, a true-crime aficionado who wants to be a detective. She’s come to Ellingham Academy, which is one of America’s most prestigious and unusual schools, with the hopes of solving the 1936 kidnapping of the founder’s wife and daughter. The kidnappers sent a mocking riddle signed Truly, Devious. This is an extremely famous case, considered the crime of the century, so the idea that a high school student is going to solve it eighty years later seems absurd to many. While Stevie is at her new school, some strange things happen, including an updated version of the Truly Devious letter being projected on to her wall at night. When a fellow student dies in a freak accident, Stevie is convinced it is murder and sets out on her own investigation that combines past and present.
I wanted to write a proper mystery, with a detective. A mystery in a remote place, with a distinct cast of characters. The book is set at a remote boarding school called Ellingham Academy, which was the setting of what was called the crime of the century in 1936—the kidnapping of the founder’s wife and daughter and the death of a student. In the present day, the main character goes to the school in the hope of solving the case once and for all—and in the process, the events of the past come back in a very dangerous way. I took some pieces of real historical crimes for the backstory, as well as many elements of classic crime novels. This is a mystery, first and foremost!
Maureen Johnson’s Shelfie
So this is a picture of some of my golden age mystery novels. These strongly influence the flavor of the book. Those big books to the side are called Herewith the Clues, and they are an incredible mystery series first published in the 1930s. They aren’t stories—they are files. You just get documents and photos, and from there, you try to solve the mystery that’s presented using the clues given. The solutions are in sealed packs in the back. I love these books. I’ve created some similar materials for Truly Devious. The piles in the front are British Library reprints of classic crime novels. Some of these have been out of print since the 1930s. The British Library is bringing them back! One of my best author perks is that they send me a copy of every new one as it comes out. This is the best.
The mystery shelves go on from here, but these two are ones I often reach for.
Written by Maureen Johnson
Publisher’s Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson weaves a delicate tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a striking new series, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and E. Lockhart.
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.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0062338051
★ “Jumping between past and present, Johnson’s novel is deliciously atmospheric, with a sprawling cast of complex suspects/potential victims, surprising twists, and a dash of romance. As in her Shades of London books, Johnson remains a master at combining jittery tension with sharp, laugh-out-loud observations.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Johnson deftly twists two mysteries together—Stevie’s investigation is interspersed with case files and recollections from the Ellington kidnapping—and the result is a suspenseful, attention-grabbing mystery with no clear solution. The versatile Johnson is no stranger to suspense, and this twisty thriller will leave plenty of readers anxious for more.” — Booklist
“A classic mystery that would make Dame Agatha proud.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Fans of puzzles, boarding school stories, and true crime will tear through this book and love every minute.” — School Library Journal
“Told in alternating chapters, Johnson’s finely tuned plot effectively employs classical mystery tropes while maintaining a thoroughly modern sensibility. Stevie’s quirky, ragtag bunch of new friends crosses sexuality and class lines, providing teen readers with a wealth of characters to connect with.” — Horn Book Magazine
“Johnson quickly sets the game afoot, skillfully introducing a Clue-like set of characters, laying out various motives, and hinting at long held secrets. There’s a delicious slow-burn element to the locked-room mystery in Stevie’s present, while the chapters on the kidnappings read like a true crime novel.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
About the Author
Maureen Johnson is the bestselling author of several novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, the Truly Devious series, the Suite Scarlett series, and the Shades of London series. She has also written collaborative works such as Let It Snowwith John Green and Lauren Myracle and The Bane Chronicles with Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. Maureen lives in New York and online on Twitter @maureenjohnson or at www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com.
Discover more books like “Truly Devious,” by Maureen Johnson, by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with Boarding School Books, Detective Books, Girl Detectives, Law & Crime, Maureen Johnson, and Mysteries; and be sure to follow along with our Selfie and a Shelfie series.