Book Review: Truly Devious (Books 1-3) by Maureen Johnson

“There is something about early mornings that changes your perceptions subtly. The light is new; no one has put on the defenses of the day. All is reset and not quite real yet. Whatever had happened between David and Stevie didn’t exist at this moment. Everything was dew and Larry’s instant coffee and the gentle, buttery morning sun.”

Maureen Johnson, Truly Devious

Titles: Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stair, The Hand on the Wall
Series: Truly Devious (Books 1-3)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Adventure, Contemporary Fiction
Length: Truly Devious: 10 hrs, 12 mins, The Vanishing Stair: 9 hrs, 13 mins, The Hand on the Wall: 8 hrs, 36 mins (Audiobook)
Published: Truly Devious: January 16th, 2018, The Vanishing Stair: January 22nd, 2019, The Hand on the Wall: January 21st, 2020

My Ratings: Truly Devious: ★★★★, The Vanishing Stair: ★★★★¼, The Hand on the Wall: ★★★★
Books read: 1/10/2023 – 1/14/2023

I’ve decided to post these reviews together given how continuous the first three books in the series are. There may be light spoilers from preceding books mentioned as the reviews go on.

Truly Devious Review:

When Stevie Bell is accepted into Ellingham Academy, a school for gifted students, she thinks it’s the chance of a lifetime to solve the ‘Truly Devious’ murders. What she doesn’t anticipate is a classmate turning up dead. Was it an accident, or has there been another murder on the property all these years later?

I ate up the setting of this book. Ellingham Academy would have been my dream school at this age and I loved all of the different personalities of the characters. It could be over the top at times, but that’s to be expected in a YA book. That was part of the fun, too. It’s also the definition of a page-turner. As soon as I got to the end I had to start The Vanishing Stair.

The Vanishing Stair Review:

Picking up shortly after where Truly Devious left off, we return with Stevie to Ellingham Academy after making a deal with her worst enemy, Edward King. Things look a little bit different now that one student has died and another has gone missing. Going against all of the warnings, she continues investigating the Ellingham case as well as the recent death and disappearance. The plot thickens when there is another death. If she wasn’t suspicious before, she is certain now that there is foul play. Is this the work of a fellow student? A faculty member? Or is it an outside job? Between riddles and bizarre behavior, Stevie has her work cut out for her.

Given we were introduced to the characters in the first book, there’s no shortage of action and intrigue in the sequel. I ended up enjoying it even more than Truly Devious. We also get a deeper look into Stevie and David’s complicated relationship, though David has been acting strangely since she left and returned. This becomes another mystery Stevie wants to uncover. However, she’s yet to make peace with the knowledge of who his father is.

Once again, the book leaves off on a cliffhanger that is perhaps even crueler than the first. Be sure to have The Hand on the Wall ready because you aren’t going to want to wait for the conclusion.

The Hand on the Wall Review:

Questions finally get answered in The Hand on the Wall. Who is ‘Truly Devious’? Who killed two of the academy students? What happened to Alice Ellingham? And the latest question, who killed yet another connection to the school and the Ellingham case? With all of the recent tragedies, the school risks being closed for good.

Stevie isn’t the only one desperate for answers, and though she does have the biggest piece of the puzzle figured out, she still doesn’t know why two of her friends have been killed. Meanwhile, David is on a mission to sabotage his father’s presidential campaign. This leads to a group of the academy students staying behind at the school despite an evacuation order… because nothing could go wrong trapped in a blizzard in a school that’s shaping up to be cursed.

The story winds down in this book and focuses a lot on the historical part of the mystery. It’s also slightly more character-driven than the previous two books. I’m curious about what’s next given this one doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. So far, I’ve had fun with this series and plan on finishing it in the near future.

Likes & Dislikes:

What I liked:

  • The depiction of what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder.
  • The uniqueness of the characters.
  • The pace in which the mysteries unfolded as well as the balance of the past and present.
  • Nate. I love Nate.

What I didn’t like:

  • Heavy out scenes and the occasional allusion to sex between minors. It makes me super uncomfortable.
  • I found some plot holes largely due to how complex the mysteries are. Especially in the last book, they became more complicated than they needed to be.
  • The kids could be pretty bratty.


My friend Ashleigh read Truly Devious and thought I might like it… I devoured it. If not for the spontaneity, I think I would have finished these three books in 2-3 days. I’m tempted to pick up books four and five right away, but I have some ARCs I need to finish and review first. Thank you Ashleigh for the great recommendation!

Where to buy the books:

Truly Devious:

The Vanishing Stair:

The Hand on the Wall:

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