Johnson, Maureen. Truly Devious. HarperCollins, 2018.
In the 1930s, affluent, but unconventional, Alfred Ellingham founded the exclusive Ellingham Academy in the mountains of Vermont, with hopes of attracting the future’s smartest, brightest, and most creative minds. Students were allowed to learn at their own pace and take on personal projects tailored to their interests. Not long after, Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old daughter were kidnapped. Someone calling himself “Truly Devious” took credit for the crime and demanded ransom for the victims. Unfortunately, the ransom drop went horribly wrong, supposedly leading to the death of Alfred’s wife. His daughter, Iris, was never found. At about the same time, one of the students was also found murdered in a tunnel on the school property. Although someone was charged and found guilty, the true perpetrator was never found.
Jump ahead to present day, and a new class of students is arriving at the academy. Among those students is Stevie Bell, an amateur detective, who hopes she can solve the Ellingham mysteries. She considers herself to be an expert on the case because she has read and studied everything she could find on it. Now another student has died mysteriously in the same tunnel, and the school is in an uproar. Despite anxiety attacks, teenage drama, and a schoolgirl crush, Stevie must now solve more than one case.
Truly Devious is a fresh take on the basic crime novel. The story alternates between the present and the 1930s, using flashbacks to describe the school and the crimes that happened in there in thirties. The school’s grounds and buildings are beautifully described and seem idyllic in nature. There is a cast of well-fleshed-out and exceptionally diverse set of characters—in gender, ethnicity, race, and other aspects. There are laugh-out-loud funny moments, plot twists, surprises, with just a little romance thrown in for good measure. Just when you think you know who the murderer is, something happens to change your mind and keep you guessing! Of course, there is that dreaded cliffhanger, leading the reader yearning for next book in the series.