Book of the week: The ‘Truly Devious’ series engages even the most experienced mystery readers

Emily Flamme, Managing Editor

The “Truly Devious” series written by Maureen Johnson is not only some of the best mystery novels I’ve read, but also my favorite book series.

‘Truly Devious’ is a modern mystery series that everyone can enjoy. (Lisa Flamme)

The first book, “Truly Devious” came out in 2018 and was followed by three more: “Hand on the Wall,” “The Vanishing Stair” and “The Box in the Woods.”

I have read all four and decided that Johnson writes mystery in the best way possible. The stories are intriguing and intense at times, but it’s well-balanced by characters who have large personalities.

Stevie Bell, the main character, is a self-proclaimed detective. I know how that sounds, but stay with me. She finds out about a private prep school called Ellingham Academy where students who excel in a certain skill can apply to receive specialized training and opportunities to work on those skills. However, the school was not up and running for several decades due to murders that happened there in the 1920s. The murderer’s alias was “Truly Devious.”

Bell applies to the school, explaining how she’s a true crime fanatic, but also has excellent detective skills and wants to help finally solve the “Truly Devious” cold case.

The school accepts her, and thus begins the journey of the next three books. Another murder happens a few weeks into school, sending Bell on a crazy path of trying to solve the two seemingly unrelated events. By the end of the third book, Bell solved the mysteries, but not without almost being murdered herself.

Despite the terror she faces at school, she makes several friends along the way and still manages to have fun.

Bell has so much fun that Johnson wrote a fourth novel, “Box in the Woods,” that features the same cast of characters, but in an entirely new setting with a new mystery to solve.

As someone who reads a lot of mystery and thrillers, I have a tendency to figure out what happens before the ending, and if I don’t, it’s usually because the twist doesn’t make sense.

However, with Johnson’s writing, there are twists throughout that make sense, but are still shocking to read. By the end of all her stories, I started to piece things together, but I didn’t have the full picture, which is what makes this the best mystery series I’ve read.

Aside from how well the mystery is written, the character development makes the stories, and Bell seems like a very realistic character. She is a sure and confident person, but what I like most is that Johnson shows her battle with anxiety. I’m sure a lot of people can find comfort in a character who escapes death several times and solves a decades-old mystery, but also deals with anxiety like 19% of the U.S. population, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The book is inclusive without feeling forced. For example, this is the first novel I’ve read that has a nonbinary character and goes by “they/them” pronouns. The book introduces the character, Vi, and doesn’t make a big deal over the fact that they are nonbinary. It’s only used for how they identify themselves. I really appreciated how casual it was, and I’m confident many people would agree.

If you’re looking for a great mystery that has a lot of twists and a satisfying ending while featuring a great group of characters, this is the series for you.