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A SPOILER FREE Review of: Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

GENRE: YA Mystery
LENGTH: 445 pages

Amateur detective Stevie Bell and her friends travel to England to meet up with Stevie’s boyfriend who is studying there. While there Stevie learns of a cold case from the 90s in which two members of a group of friends died during a game of hide and seek. Drawn into the case, Stevie’s vacation becomes a lot more dangerous.

This novel is the fifth book in the Truly Devious series and features the return of all the main players from the Ellingham Academy crew. This includes, of course, Stevie, her boyfriend David, her best friends Janelle and Nate, and Janelle’s partner Vi. The characters and their relationships remain unchanged for the most part. The major exception is Nate who has a pretty big moment in the novel.
I love this crew and their friendships. Janelle is always a delight and the at times a much needed voice of reason in the group. It’s nice to see platonic relationships between males and females. Nate and Stevie are both so awkward, but in many ways they feel like each other’s safe space. Vi is not only admirable for her aspirations for social change but it’s great to see a prominent nonbinary character who uses they/them pronouns!
I did find myself feeling a little frustrated with Stevie in this novel when it came to her relationship with David. David in the original trilogy wasn’t always the most likable or the best boyfriend. However, in the fourth book he matured a lot. Stevie in the previous book and this one has really proved that she isn’t ready to be in a serious relationship. She lacks the proper and needed communication skills and this leads to conflicts between the two festering.
There are ten new characters in this novel. The nine liars in the title consist of a group of very much codependent people who met in Cambridge and bonded over their love of theater and comedy. They are: Sooz, Yash, Peter, Julian, Rosie, Theo, Noel, Sebastian, Angela. At the novel’s onset, we get brief descriptions of each of the nine. However, I still had trouble keeping track of who was who and they didn’t all standout to me. I would have preferred the group consisting of six because that number is much more manageable. The tenth new character is Izzy who is the niece of one of the nine and David’s college classmate. She seemed genuinely nice and I think she and Stevie could have been friends if it weren’t for Stevie letting her jealousy get in the way.

The novel is told through the third person perspective of Stevie as well as various members of the nine. If you’ve read the four previous Truly Devious books then you’ll be familiar with the format by now. There are present day and past chapters with a current day mystery that has ties to the cold case Stevie is attempting to solve. Also like with the previous books, there id a mixed media element which is always something I get super excited to see in the mystery genre. This one includes police transcripts from the case of the Nine.
Part of the novel is spent traversing London and other parts at Craven House where Stevie and company is staying. The most important location in the novel, however, is Merryweather which is a house owned by Sebastian’s family. It is the primarily location in the past chapters. I frequently talk about my love of setting taking place in big houses with lots of places to hide. Everything from the mansion setting to the large group of characters made me think of my favorite board game, Clue. It was just a great setting for a mystery and of the three mysteries this series has covered (the Ellingham Affair, the Box in the Woods murders, and now this one) it is my favorite to date.
Despite being an addition to the Truly Devious series, this is a standalone mystery which is solved by the novel’s conclusion. As with the previous books in the series it does have a slower pace. The first chapter is an introduction to the Nine and Merryweather, but Stevie herself doesn’t become acquainted with the mystery until over 100 pages into the book. I don’t mind a longer book with a slower story because I don’t have the same expectations with a mystery as I do with a thriller. I also adore these characters and consider these books my comfort books so I am never in a rush to finish them. I just think that it is worth mentioning because I am sure some people would be turned off by the slower pace.
I don’t recommend reading this book without first reading the other four books (the first three follow the same mystery while the fourth is also a standalone mystery like this one). That being said, you could technically do so, but I would urge you to read at least the original trilogy first (though I think the fourth is also well worth the read).

This book was one of my most anticipated reads of 2023 and I fully expected to give it 5 stars just like I have with all previous books in this series. While that wasn’t the case I am still more than happy that I made this my first read of the new year. I am loving these standalone Stevie Bell mysteries that explore locations outside of Ellingham Academy but still keep our core cast. This novel ended on a bit of a cliffhanger so I’m hopeful for a sixth book. My best friend theorized it will take place in Stevie’s future college and given how the topic of college applications was so prominent in this novel I suspect she’s probably going to be right!


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