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Truly Devious: 05/15/19

Truly Devious

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson is the first book in a YA series that is part cold case mystery, part modern day thriller, and part of the road narrative spectrum. Past and present are both set at Ellingham Academy in rural Vermont. In the past, the founder of the school loses his wife and child. In the present, new student Stevie Bell is trying to solve the cold case murder of Mrs. Ellingham and the kidnapping/disappearance of Alice Ellingham, but all that goes horribly pear-shaped when a fellow student dies of suspicious circumstances.

The book alternates between flashbacks, snippets of historical documents relating to the case, and Stevie's modern day experience as a new student. Stevie, while she knows more about the Ellingham case than anyone living, has her own problems in the form of anxiety. Although it's not specifically mentioned, she also reads as autistic to me.

I'm going to admit that I spent most of my energy reading the present day scenes. Everything you need to know about the 1938 kidnapping and the aftermath in 1939 are presented through Stevie's research. Reading it first hand isn't needed, but it's there if you want it. That said, Johnson maintains distinct voices for the past and the present. The historical sections ring true.

About two thirds through the book, a student ends up dead in one of the tunnels that have since the kidnapping been filled and closed to access. They've only recently been opened but are most likely off limits to students. That doesn't stop Stevie's cohorts from entering. One of them is a Youtuber who wants to make a video reenacting the 1938 crime. He convinces everyone else to go into the tunnels or realism. He's later found in one, dead.

The death, while determined to be suspicious and possibly murder, isn't solved in volume one. So in that regard, Truly Devious isn't a true mystery. But it uses the tropes and it's a page turner.

In terms of the road narrative spectrum, it's a 66CCCC, or marginalized traveler to uhoria via a maze. The travelers are Stevie and the other students. As students away from home and without transportation off the campus, they don't have many options (66). The destination is primarily the cold case. While there are no ghosts as this is realistic fiction, there are the clues from the past. With the focus being on a crime from 1938 (so an eighty year old mystery), the destination is metaphorically uhoria (CC). Finally, the route to uhoria — to solving the mystery — is one of investigating the grounds and the buildings. They have changed. The death of the Youtuber is evidence enough of the danger of these forgotten, and thus maze like paths (CC).

The second book is The Vanishing Stair (2019), which I have out from the library and will be reading soon.

Five stars

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