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.

Good News – I finally read Truly Devious.

Bad News – I am disappointed.

I liked the beginning and the first-half well enough. Especially the past timeline parts. But for the present timeline, I feel like I kept waiting for the story to take off the whole time but it never did. I also could not connect to many of the characters. Stevie was an interesting protagonist, if frustrating at times. I think I liked Nate the best. I also liked the friendship between Nate and Stevie. I found Janelle to be a promising character at the beginning but by the end, she felt so under-utilized. In fact, all the supporting cast felt under-utilized and wasted.

The character that I found the most annoying was David. I still don’t know what was the deal with him and am not the least interested to find out. I’m not sure I like whatever romance we saw between David and Stevie. I’d rather Nate was her romantic interest.

It was the pacing and the plot that disappointed me the most. Especially the ending. What was that, really? That was so anti-climactic. The whole later half itself felt very cluttered as if the author was unsure which direction to take the story to. I get that the author wanted us to read the sequel to get the answers, but that doesn’t mean that you leave the first book so unstructured. There was not one complete story in the book that was explored fully. And I can’t say I was too impressed by that cliffhanger.

I think this is more of a case of “It’s me, not you”, because almost everyone loved Truly Devious. This narrative in this one failed to deliver what I want from my murder mystery series. But I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and give The Vanishing Stair a try before having a final say.