Who doesn’t love a good boarding school novel? As a fan of both traditional mysteries and boarding school settings, the Truly Devious trilogy (Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stair, and The Hand on the Wall) seemed very nicely targeted toward me as a reader. I’m generally not a big YA reader, but the fit was too good in this case. And as a bonus, the trilogy is complete, so no pesky waiting between books!
Book 1 (Truly Devious) begins with Stephanie “Stevie” Bell arriving at the mysterious Ellingham Academy, located outside of Burlington Vermont. Ellingham is one of those magical fictional schools that doesn’t require you to pay tuition or take the PSAT, but instead plucks brilliant students from obscurity and lets them pursue their various obscure intellectual interests, which for Stevie is crime, particularly the kidnapping of the Ellingham Academy founder’s wife and daughter shortly after the opening of the school in the 1930s. Soon after arriving at Ellingham, a student dies under mysterious circumstances, and now Stevie has two investigations on her hands.
The story of the Ellingham kidnapping unfolds over all three books, as Stevie uses various investigative techniques to learn more about what happened and why. The Ellingham academy campus is full of dusty attics and secret tunnels for Stevie to explore, along with her friends and fellow students Janelle and Nate and her maybe-sorta-boyfriend David. Each book reveals enough about the Ellingham case to feel satisfying, while still leaving enough still to discover to make you excited for the next book. Each of the three books also has a stand-alone mystery that is resolved (at least to some extent) within that volume, although the full story isn’t revealed until the end of the series. Stevie and her friends feel competent and interesting without being annoyingly precocious or overly adult (a risk in any book about smart teenagers).
Overall I found the series fun and satisfying, great for fans of classic whodunits and those of us who still miss dorm life at least a little bit.