This was an unexpectedly enjoyable YA novel.
It’s not a debut, and it shows. It is confident and engaging. I initially thought it might be a variant on the superhero school or teens-with-powers genre. But it’s not, to my delight.
Ellingham Academy is a private – but free – school unlike any other. It was founded by eccentric tycoon, Albert Ellingham, whose aim was to educate particularly gifted children, to make a place ‘where learning is a game’. It’s an amazing place in the Vermont mountains, in cleared grounds full of statues, its own lake and observatory, experimental labs, a ballroom, and hidden passages.
It also holds the secret to a tragic mystery.
Stevie Bell is obsessed with solving crimes; the Ellingham case is her particular obsession. Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter went missing one April night in 1936. They were held to ransom by an villain known only as ‘Truly Devious’; a kidnapper who wrote the ransom note in magazine clippings and an annoying rhyme. The case ended tragically and with a conviction, but Stevie has never found this conclusion satisfactory.
Stevie is – unexpectedly – offered a place based on her potential crime-solving abilities. Coming from a boring and slightly embarrassing background, she feels out of place and isolated, but thrilled to be in the actual buildings -and tunnels – where her ‘pet murder’ took place.
Can Stevie solve the mystery more than eighty years on? Is Truly Devious still on the case? Will Stevie make friends? Will Stevie survive the first year?
I enjoyed this unusual YA read. Stevie was good company and Maureen Johnson has created a believably eccentric school with an intriguing back story. The split-time narrative worked well and hooked this reader into the story. The cast of characters was varied but not confusing. This book is the perfect segeway between Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike and Agatha Christie, but in a contemporary setting.
However, the ending was unsatisfying – until I found out there is another part – Truly Devious Two – which I hope will go even further to solving the Ellingham Case. I look foward to meeting Stevie and her friends again -soon, please!
Thanks to Harper Collins for the advanced reading copy. Out now!