Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious


Goodreads: Truly Devious
Series: Truly Devious #1
Source: Library
Published: 2018


Founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century businessman, Ellingham Academy in Vermont is one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country. It also has a dark past. Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and murdered years ago by a culprit who signed their letter, “Truly, Devious.” But now Truly Devious seems to be back. Can new student Stevie Bell crack the case when one of her own classmates is murdered?

Star Divider


“There is nothing so serious as a game.”

Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious is a compelling and complex mystery that will draw readers in from the first page. Flashing back and forth between the present and the past, it introduces readers to a deliciously atmospheric boarding school that seems freewheeling and artsy on the surface, but that harbors dark secrets beneath. Three murders occurred on the property in the 1930s and they were never solved. Now, the same murderer seems to be striking again. First-year student Stevie Bell is obsessed with the original Ellingham case and dreams of becoming a detective. But her skills may not be enough to keep her alive. Fans of boarding school mysteries will find everything they love in the genre in Johnson’s dark and twisty tale.

Truly Devious hooked me from the beginning with its witty prose and keen observations. The narrator’s voice is truly one of the delights of the novel, giving the book sort of a knowing feel as it plays with boarding school tropes, while making them feel fresh. I really felt glued to the pages, eager to find out what would happen next, eager to learn more clues so I could see if I could solve the unsolvable mystery.

Delightfully, I could not solve the mystery. The end of book one reveals a surprise twist, of course, but something still feels missing. Something is not quite right. And it makes me very eager to find book two so I can get to work using my own powers of deduction alongside Stevie. Stevie is an extremely likable protagonists, a girl who is extraordinary in many ways, but still humble. In her mind, she’s just a girl who lives mysteries, and she is not entirely sure how she ended up in a school where students wear garbage bags while playing instruments off-key in a “study yurt,” but she’s willing to go with it. Her “why not” attitude is a key part of what makes the book.

The one thing about Truly Devious I did not enjoy was the romance. It is obvious Johnson is going for a sort of “enemies to lovers” trope, but it really does not work here. Instead, the romance seems to arrive out of nowhere. One minute Stevie hates the guy and the next they are literally rolling around together over her bedroom floor. I never had any sense that there was any built-up chemistry between the two, so this is more confusing than anything else. Plus, her love interest does actually seem legitimately obnoxious at times–it was not all just a huge misunderstanding. Maybe their romance will progress in the next two books, but I do not really care. It just feels like a distraction from the mystery at this point.

Altogether, however, Truly Devious is a deliciously atmospheric boarding school mystery sure to engage fans of the genre. It has everything you could want from such a book–hidden tunnels, secret passages, creepy ransom notes, and a truly twisty plot. Bring on the sequel!

4 stars

4 thoughts on “Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

  1. bibliosini says:

    This feels like the perfect Maureen Johnson book! The plot sounds crazy good and I’m so excited by your enthusiasm for book two!


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