Truly Devious Trilogy: A Promising Start for Murder Mystery in YA

Hailey Reyes

Young Adult author Maureen Johnson has outdone herself in completing The Truly Devious Trilogy that wrapped in mid-January. The series exhibits carefully crafted plot twists, intense character development, and a fast-paced yet crammed storyline. Johnson’s trilogy is one that is completely unique to YA with its infusion of both clever modern-day teenage melodrama and enticing historical flashbacks to the rare wealth of the 1930s. 


The trilogy consists of, Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stair, and The Hand on The Wall, all of which follow the character of teen detective Stevie Bell who is admitted to Ellingham Academy, a school for students with exceptional passions. Ellingham Academy, not following a typical admissions process, admits Stevie due to her love for true crime. Ultimately Stevie attends the school in hopes of solving what is known as the “case of the century”, which is a kidnapping that took place at Ellingham in the 1930s. 


The school, for starters, is everything and anything a book worm could ever hope for in a YA series. Johnson’s writing is utterly atmospheric and the woodsy place of learning that she created for Stevie and her scrappy team of friends not only fits exquisitely with each character’s interests, but the school is described in a manner so precise that the reader can feel its rich history radiating off the page. 

Throughout the series, the reader will switch between present-day, where Stevie is trying to adapt to her new life at Ellingham, and the 1930’s where the infamous Ellingham case is unfolding right before the reader’s eyes. Often, a story that consists of dual perspectives can be a bit tricky as one can become aggravated with an abrupt disruption to a set of characters they’re becoming so attached to. For this particular story, however, the implementation of historical fiction only inspires the reader to investigate the case and after more is revealed, the reader is left with no choice but to root for Stevie.


The case itself is so deliberately thought out and is surprisingly jam-packed. Johnson created a kidnapping case that is coaxed in misfortunes, impulse decisions, and disheartening misconceptions. While reading, there is never a moment in which the plot takes a break or slows down, much of this is due to the off-set perspectives. Chapter after chapter, there is something new for Stevie to discover and what multiple mystery fans would hope for, many of the discoveries can not be foreseen. 


The amount of representation in this series is absolutely extraordinary as Johnson’s academy is a space in which all characters are completely distinctive in their own creative right. There is a lesbian character, a non-binary character, a great number of political conflicts and Stevie herself suffers from anxiety.  Having the main character and pairing her up with both anxiety struggles and a love for true crime was a brilliant creative choice on Johnson’s part as Stevie learns to adapt to overwhelming circumstances within the investigative field. Stevie’s persistence to stay on her A-game throughout the series introduces her as a new teen hero to YA readers. 


All three books have earned themselves over four stars on Good Reads and it’s very clear why. The trilogy is unlike anything released in YA and the storyline is compulsive, twisted, and engaging all throughout. Johnson has unleashed something dangerous within true crime fanatics and the series, hopefully, will open doors for more murder mysteries in the YA genre.