The first half of this book was charming. The last 20% was riveting. But that part in the middle…well, that is where things are most likely to go wrong.
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.
First things first: This book is funny. The protagonist, Stevie, is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud more than once as we got to know her. She is also a girl that I knew. She was me, she was my misfit friends. She is too smart for her own good, not great at the business of being a girl. Guys are a little fascinated by her complete apathy, and girls…well, girls are a little suspicious because they know that she is not quite of their species. She branched out somewere. She is a genus undefined. And she did not fit in with her family, at all, which is a theme that continues to resonate. I have a great family, and they love me very much, but sometimes they look at me like they don’t quite know how they ended up with this very strange girl. As Stevie put it:
“Her mother gave her that look again. We kind of wanted the going-out, shopping, prom-going type, and we got this weird, creepy one, and we love it but what is it talking about, ever?”
What is it talking about, ever?
In this case, Stevie is talking about murder, specifically, the unsolved murder of Iris Ellingham. Stevie has studied it, obsessed over it, and is determined to do what the FBI and the police have been unable to do for the last 85 years: she is going to solve it.
Somewhere along the way, though, a student dies, the circumstances are murky, and Stevie begins to wonder. And lurk. And snoop. And get involved in a way that is perhaps inappropriate for a 16-year-old at a private school. But hey, Sherlock Holmes would have done it, right?
I’m a fan of mysteries, and this is a good one. And the writing is top-notch. But it did bog down around the 60% mark, and I found myself, well, not skimming actually, but certainly not savoring. It was a little “come on, come on, come on” for me there for a while. However, there is a bigger problem and that is that I’m not sure at this point if I care enough about the characters to continue to the next book. And this one ended on a cliffhanger! But I have four books in my “gotta read this now!” queue, and grabbing the second book, which was available in my library, so I could already be reading it…well, it didn’t seem like a priority. And this concerns me.
Not saying that I won’t read the second book. I might. But shouldn’t that seem like a priority right now? I mean, I finished The Knife of Never Letting Go walking to Starbucks one day, and had downloaded the sequel before I got back to my office. When I read a series, THAT is the propulsion I’m looking for at the end.
Truly Devious did not give me that. So. I’ll give it a—