Truly Devious Book Review!

Title: Truly Devious
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genres: YA, Mystery
Publication date: 2018
Number of pages: 416
Length of audiobook: 10 hours 13 minutes
Trigger warnings: anxiety, panic attacks, murder, death, abduction, bereavement

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.

Truly Devious is based on a mysterious and potentially unsolved case of abduction and murder that happened in the 1930s. In the present day we follow teenager, Stevie who aims to become a detective. She joins the school where the case took place and her goal is to solve it. 

The characters:
Stevie was an interesting character. She studies crime which includes listening to crime podcasts, learning to lockpick and of course looking at the unsolved case. Stevie has anxiety and it was good to see that representation in the book. The other characters varied. We had a cast of other students and some of the staff at the school, as well as chapters based on characters from the 1930s. The thing is that there were no characters that I really connected with. I would have liked to have found out more about the Ellingham family because the chapters we had from the past were short and intermittent and revolved around the case. We didn't find out much about the lives of the Ellingham's before the crimes occurred. 

I found this book difficult to get into. I picked it up on three separate occasions. The third, being the time that I actually finished the book. I had previously tried with the physical book but I was just finding it slow. I just wanted to find out what had really happened but I wasn't really interested in the present-time characters. On the third time, I tried the audiobook on Scribd and listening to it on 2x speed I became more interested in the book. It helped that I was getting through the book quickly and this improved the pacing for me. 

So as the plot progressed there was a relationship in this book that I totally did not expect and I didn't like. I won't go too much into this because of spoilers but if you have read this book I would love to discuss it with you! Although this romance was annoying (due to the love interest), I kind of just waited for those parts to be over so I could find out more about the mystery. 

The audiobook:
I listened to a lot of the book on audiobook. It is narrated by Kate Rudd who did an absolutely amazing job of narrating. I listened to the book on 2x speed for the majority of the time and I found that worked well for me. I will definitely be looking at other books narrated by Kate Rudd! (Also thank you to all the audiobook narrators out there!)

Final thoughts:
Overall, this book was a good read but one that I didn't fall into or immensely enjoy. The riddles and mysteries were interesting. The characters were just OK for me. This book is the first in a series and although I would like to find out the end result of what really happened (I have an idea of what happened), I just don't want to spend time reading more books when the first one wasn't amazing for me. So unfortunately this book didn't quite reach my expectations but honestly I am still glad that I read it, it was interesting and it was a hyped book that I now have my own opinions on.

Star rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Check out the book: Amazon - Book Depository - Scribd


  1. Sounds like one I could skip. Thanks for the review!

    1. It really depends on your reading tastes. I'm glad that I did read it after experiencing all the hype and wanting to read it for so long!