Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”
Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.
True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.
The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three. (Synopsis via Goodreads)
A private boarding school that is set in the mountains of Vermont, and a murder mystery to boot? The only real question is why did I not get my hands on this book when it first came out?
Stevie Bell wants to solve crimes, and she wants to solve the biggest one of all – the Ellingham kidnapping/murder from the 1930s. It’s her ambition to solve that mystery that gets her accepted into the school. After all, each of the students has a “thing” and this falls under Stevie’s. So when a classmate turns up dead, it’s only natural for Stevie to consult all she’s learned from her favorite fictional detectives to figure out if it was an accident or if the student was murdered.
The story has a sort-of dual timeline; the main focus is on Stevie and her new life at Ellingham Academy, but some chapters shift to the original mystery that brought her there in the first place. It wasn’t confusing at all; it offers a great backstory to the Academy and it gives the overall story more life.
Stevie is an interesting character and for the most part, I like her. I can also relate to her, at least on the social aspect (being selective about making friends). The fact that she also has anxiety with occasional panic attacks makes her even more relatable and likable, at least to me. I mean, you wouldn’t really expect that someone who’s so interested in crime can get thrown into a panic attack by seeing a crime scene or having a real-life mystery on their hands. It adds another dimension to her personality.
Out of the other characters, I love her friends Janelle and Nate. Janelle is the social butterfly friend who is just a ball of sunshine, and Nate is the complete opposite of her but that just makes you want to hug him. Ellie was an oddball, and I didn’t dislike her but I didn’t like her much either. David, Hayes, and Germaine I did not like at all; their attitudes sucked, plain and simple.
Overall, this was a great start to the Truly Devious trilogy and the ending will have you wanting to read the second book right away, so keep the second one nearby if you decide to read this one!
Rating: 4 stars