Maureen Johnson | Maestrul Minciunilor / Truly, Devious

It’s been more than twelve years since Maureen Johnson gave us “13 Little Blue Envelopes”, published by RAO in 2008. I think I was in high school when I first read it and was so annoyed that they hadn’t translated the second book. Only years later did I discover what was in “The Last Little Blue Envelope”. She followed up with “Suite Scarlett” in 2008 before diving into Urban Fantasy with her series “Shades of London”.

A series not very different from “Truly Devious”: a boarding school, old murders and new ones. But then you have the ghosts, the Jack the Ripper connections and the murder cult. We are sadly yet to see a volume 4 in the series or a Romanian translation.

     Maureen Johnson knows how to make friends, because you will often find her associated with authors like John Green and Cassandra Clare. She has written with both of them and her name will often pop up in the Shadowhunter short stories. She is also one of the three authors that contributed to the “Let it Snow” anthology in 2008, a book I always like to reread on the first snow day in winter. Bottom line is that Maureen Johnson is an author with her finger in different genre pots, but her strong point is clearly in writing mystery.

“Truly, Devious” is her latest series, picked up by TREI Publishing in 2019, with three books already out and I feel this could become the “Nancy Drew” of the new generation. Set in Ellingham Academy, a private school for bright minds and free thinkers, the first book follows Stevie Bell who wants to solve the cold case that surrounds the academy. Before she can discover who is the Truly Devious murderer, Stevie has to face death in the present.

A private school hidden in the mountain is the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery and the cast of crime solving teens make it even better: the inventor, the novelist, the actor and Youtube star, the computer geek with a lot of secrets. Each of them brings something to the table in the tangle of past and present murder. The crime aficionado Stevie Bell is sometimes the most normal out of them, blending perfectly the anxiety and uncertainty of teenage life with the determination of a would-be detective. I love that even in the middle of murder solving she was not impervious to the romantic teenage drama, but also that it did not shadow her main goal.

When murder becomes more than a cold case that has fascinated her, past and present meet, blending the two mysteries on the grounds of Ellingham Academy. I really enjoyed the jump between the two timelines, because it made the old Ellingham case something more than just a fascinating story. It put a human face on it, making us feel the tragedy of it not through the evidence board in Stevie’s head, but through the characters.

The chapters become more and more suspenseful as you go and you start to suspect everyone. At least I did, skipping from one suss character to the other, trying to figure out if they had a motive. Except for Nate. Nate is the best and he must be protected at all costs so he can finish his novel.  If I had to make a rank of my favourite characters it would go something like this: 1. Nate 2. Stevie 3. Janelle 4. David 5. Larry. (because we need some adults in this crazy mess of hormones).

After “The Madness Underneath” scaring me as a teen or maybe, new adult, I should have expected a cliff hanger. It wasn’t quite of the same ghostly proportions, but the betrayal was real.  I am glad I did not cave under my curiosity of reading the last page and thankfully I do not have to wait a year to see what happens next. “The Vanishing Stair” and “The Hand on the Wall” are already out.

*Cronică realizată de Măriuca Alexandra Munteanu.

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