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A SPOILER FREE Review of: The Truly Devious trilogy by Maureen Johnson

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Genre: YA mystery


Truly Devious: 416 pages

The Vanishing Stair: 369 pages

The Hand on the Wall: 368 pages


Truly Devious: 5 stars

The Vanishing Stair: 5 stars

The Hand on the Wall: 4.5 stars

Average Rating: 4.83 stars


Stevie Bell is a true crime aficionado who begins her education at the prestigious, remote Ellingham Academy. In 1936 the wealthy founder, Albert Ellingham's wife and young daughter were kidnapped and the mystery was never solved. Stevie intends to solve it. Along the way more bodies start dropping!


Stevie, like me, suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. I really appreciated how Stevie's anxiety didn't define her. It was something she at times struggled with, but it didn't stop her from being clever, ambitious, and passionate about solving crimes. She was, overall, incredibly well rounded.

Other notable characters from the present day chapters include Stevie's best friends Janelle (caring and intelligent) and Nate (a frustrated, antisocial but kind writer), and her love interest David (whom I found to be manipulative and did not like). There was also security guard Larry who, while often fed up with Stevie's antics, was still sweet and protective. An the annoying Germaine Batt, a budding reporter.

Notable past characters include: Albert Ellingham (the school's wealthy founder who loved games), FBI agent George Marsh, Flora Robinson (Iris's best friend), Robert Mackenzie (Albert's secretary), Leonard Holmes Nair (a painter and Ellingham family friend), and students Francis and Eddie (two wannabe outlaws).

Narrative Style:

The novels are told in third person and alternate between present day and past (1936 when the Ellingham Affair occurred. I liked how the novels masterfully mirrored themselves by doing this. I especially liked how police interviews and news articles were included.


I devoured these novels.I felt like each had excellent pacing. I read these fast because I wanted to keep reading to find out what was going to happen next. While I agreed with the sentiment I tended to see that the books could have been condescended into two books but I certainly didn't mind it being stretched into a trilogy as it gave the author time to really flesh the story out and make it so it didn't feel rushed.


Ellingham Academy is situated on an isolated mountain in Vermont and has countless secret passageways and locations. I felt it served as the perfect setting for a mystery. There were times it felt eerie, times it felt claustrophobic, and times it felt downright creepy.

Overall Thoughts:

While I read them in winter, I feel like these would be perfect fall reads. The murder mystery aspects of the novels were so well crafted and there is wonderful mental health representation. I'm not someone who even considers myself a fan of true crime or mysteries, but I found myself becoming lost in these books and loving every moment that I was.

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