October 20, 2018

When Murder Disappoints | Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious
By Maureen Johnson
Truly Devious #1
Published on January 18, 2018
416 Pages
Young Adult, Mystery

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.


My favorite thing about mystery novels is pretending that I am a detective. I love picking up dropped clues and learning information along with the characters. As a reader, I feel like it is my duty to beat the main character to the punch and figure out who the killer is before I am told. What can I say, I am competitive like that.

The problem with Truly Devious is that there were no breadcrumbs to follow, for either of the mysteries presented in the novel. In fact, the whole thing about Truly, Devious is kind of ignored throughout the novel. I was expecting a focus on the old case, with the murderer being the title and all, but there was only the smallest potential connection with Stevie storyline. Yes, it probably will be developed later on in the series, but I just didn't see enough of anything to hook me into the story. From the mention of murder and mysterious notes, I was hoping for the thriller of a Jack the Ripper story, but what I got was vague allusions galore, with hints and winks that something was going to happen without any payback.

I didn't buy the romance. It seemed random and thrown in for intrigue (and maybe to distract from the fact that there really wasn't much of a mystery). I wouldn't even call it a romance as much as two people who kiss at the most inconvenient times ever. It was very physical, which isn't inherently bad, but I would have liked to see a relationship that more developed and less superficial. Alternatively, I could have also forgone romance all together in order to learn more about the mystery. 

I liked Stevie's spunk and the representation of her anxiety. The difficult parts about anxiety, especially anxiety attacks, were not sugarcoated or ignored. Her mental health was consistently addressed throughout the novel, which I greatly appreciated. In addition to moving to a school for geniuses, Stevie also had to handle her mental health and a murder. I have to give her credit for that. She was a well-rounded character, even if she was totally single-minded. Despite the unorthodox setting and possibility of murder, her personality shined through. 

There was not just one cliffhanger, but many cliffhangers. The book ended without any conclusions whatsoever, like stopping in the middle of a movie. The ending was a brick wall that I ran into at full force--the only thing I got out of it was a concussion and a lot confusion.

While I enjoyed the uniqueness of the alternative perspectives from the past murder to the present murder, I still don't know anything about either of them. Alternating between time periods felt more grasping at straws in an effort to maintain a frustrating vagueness than an enlightening backstory. The titular murderer is no where to be found and I feel cheated of a satisfying conclusion.

Would you rather have a super vague mystery or one that is easy to figure out? What are your thoughts about romance in mystery novels? Do you think it is a nice addition or a distraction? Have you read Truly Devious? If so, I would love to hear what you think!

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