Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

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

I started reading Truly Devious in September of 2018, I took this long finishing it, not because it’s a bad book – it isn’t, but because I decided I wanted to listen to an audio book of it. I do not like audio books much, but i had wanted to give it a try, and I can honestly say after spending 6 months on one audio book, that i probably won’t be listening to more.

The book itself was great, Maureen Johnson did a great job making everything, even the most outlandish things, seem realistic. The setting of Ellingham Academy would have been easy to write off as being unrealistic in every way. The way the school works, its history, and the mysteries, were all things that if written by someone else would not hold the same power.

The setting was something I found amazing – Ellingham Academy is the kind of place you can feel when you read the book. It all seems to come alive, and you can imagine all the paths and tunnels. It’s possible to imagine all the places the characters spoke to each other, and how the school moved in response.

The characters too make the book worthwhile for something other than the mystery. With every one of the main characters put into a box, of just why they came to Ellingham, it’s easy to distinguish them from each other. They’re all bound by this skill or personality, but never so much that they feel stuck, they simply feel realistic, and like prodigious teenagers with a personal interest.

No one was going to discount Stevie Bell, who had gotten into this school on the wings of her interest in the Ellingham case, and who had been a bystander at a death that was now looking more and more suspicious.

The mystery plays the biggest role in the story, Stevie is there to solve the cold case that is the Ellingham kidnappings. It’s what she has spent all her time researching, and it was the reason she was accepted to the school – her knowledge of the kidnappings, and her strange ability to deduce.

The book tells both the story of Stevie’s first stretch of time at Ellingham, as well as the story of the kidnappings. Through old reports and legal documents, we as readers get access to the same material as what Stevie has. And it’s very interesting as a reader to make out all the deductions and find clues at the same time as she does.

The Ellingham mystery isn’t the only focus though. A tragedy strikes Ellingham, and Stevie puts herself at the center of the investigation. She believes the killing is related to the Ellingham case, and she tries desperately to make out any links that might be there, and which might help her in either of the cases.

What you lack in any investigation is time. With every passing hour, evidence slips away. Crime scenes are compromised by people and the elements. Things are moved, altered, smeared, shifted. Organisms rot. Wind blows dust and contaminants. Memories change and fade. As you move away from the event, you move away from the solution.

Truly Devious is a great book, and it’s able to stand alone if you wish so. Johnson does an amazing job describing everything that happens in a way that seems realistic, and her characters fill the molds they have and more. The truly devious mystery is interesting to read about, and I found myself thinking up theories all the way through the book.



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