Maureen Johnson’s latest novel follows budding detective Stevie Bell. Stevie wants nothing more than to have a career solving cases for the FBI, and her acceptance into the prestigious Ellingham Academy for her last two years of high school just might make her dream a reality. Of course, the famous unsolved kidnapping and murder case that hangs over the school doesn’t hurt either. However, when strange things begin to happen, Stevie realizes this case might not be so cold after all.
This novel offers a refreshing mix of strong characters and consuming plotlines. Stevie’s struggles with anxiety and her relationship with her parents make her very human and relatable, though her skills as a detective set her apart as extraordinary. Johnson also does well in giving her best friends that balance her and serve different purposes. Upbeat, positive Janelle encourages Stevie to be more social and try to live a more typical high school life, while the ever-gloomy Nate sympathizes with her tendency to become isolated when she’s obsessed with solving a case.
In addition to well-rounded characters, Johnson creates a suspenseful, engrossing mystery. She masterfully uses flashbacks and old interview reports to give her reader a sense of how the Ellingham case unfolded. By mixing this action and the developments happening in the present with Stevie’s adjustments to new friends, a new school, and a love interest, she easily commands readers’ attention throughout the entire novel.
In addition to making the novel interesting, I have to applaud Johnson’s ability to keep her reader guessing. Plenty of characters that populate the novel seem innocent enough, but any good mystery has a villain no one expects. In addition, Johnson leaves us with more questions than answers. She doesn’t have to take the plot in any singular direction. For example, Stevie could discover who kidnapped and murdered the victims in the end, but that is only the simplest solution to the case. Johnson could, and probably will, make the actual solution much more complex than simply discovering who the bad guy is. Although I’ve been known to continue reading book series with obvious plots if I like the characters enough, I can more than appreciate a series that relies not only on good characters to entertain readers, but also the unknown.
If you love mysterious, I recommend that you pick this book up immediately, but even if mysteries aren’t your thing, I suggest giving Truly Devious a shot. Between the characters and plot, Johnson ensured this book has something for everyone.