The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson

The Details

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Published: January 21, 2020
Genres: YA, contemporary, mystery
My Rating: 5 Stars

This is the third book in a trilogy. There will be spoilers, so if you haven’t read the other two Truly Devious books (and you should they are quite good), do not read further.

45240918Goodreads Blurb

Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .

She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles, there must be answers.

Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy.

My Review

To really get into this book, I reread the first two books in this series because I didn’t want to miss any of the little things that litter good mystery books. I wanted to see if I could figure it out before the big reveal. I will say I was close but not didn’t have the whole thing figured by the end.

These books are clearly a love story to the best mystery novels. There’s a little Sherlock and little Agatha Christie. It’s so clear how much Maureen Johnson loves these stories and she created a series that can stand beside them on the mystery shelf with pride.

The characters a diverse without it feeling forced. They read like every group of school kids should. It’s amplified a bit because of the special school they all attend, but the varying interests and backgrounds everyone comes from makes these fictional teenagers feel like they were pulled directly off a weird school on a mountain in Vermont and inserted into a book series. Johnson has been doing that with all of her books, her character across the board are just quirky enough to sit outside the YA troupe about quirky characters while still being individuals. It’s one of the things I love so much about Johnson’s writing.

Another is just how funny her writing is without being forced. The situation these students are in with the deaths of Hayes and Ellie and then the house fire at the end of book two is stressful, and sometimes a person’s reaction to stress is to make slightly inappropriate jokes. Johnson sets these up perfectly so they aren’t off-color, they are just reactionary and dark humor. Honestly, it’s wonderful.

As for the plot itself, this book and the series as a whole is brilliant. There are just enough clues to make you think you’ve solved it, but then a new clue comes along and makes you rethink the whole thing. I thought I knew at the end of the second book and was pretty sure through about a third of this book before I revised my hypothesis. I still wasn’t right, but I was in the group of people which I’m counting as a win.

This book is paced perfectly for a mystery novel, this one has the locked door mystery element using a snowstorm and how weird a group of smart kids can be to miss the bus to Burlington. The lead up to the big reveals of both murder mysteries is brilliant. How Stevie solved the original case from 1936 and the 2017 murders shows he deserves to be at Ellingham academy despite any doubts she or her parents had about it.

I want to talk a moment about the 1936 murder before I wrap up this review. The element of the novels was so smart. I think there are many true crime fans that have “favorite” old cases. There are tons of communities that discuss Zodiac, and the Black Dahlia murder not to mention Jack the Ripper; cases that probably will never be solved because of the passage of time and lack of forensics as well as just weird clues that may have nothing to do with the murders themselves. Including the Ellingham murders and having Stevie work through it across these three novels is an armchair detective dream. That storyline of the series is a fictionalized version of what Michelle McNamara was doing in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. How that story wraps is perfect. I think for some it may be a bit of a letdown, but I found it to be exactly the kind of ending to a story that old.

Overall, these books are 100% worth reading. They are mystery stories for people who love mystery stories written by a person who loves these kinds of stories and it’s clear with every line of these three books.

On her podcast (Say Who) Maureen teased that this may not be the last time we get to read about these characters of this school, and I hope that’s true. I would love to see Stevie Bell joint he canon of fictional detectives alongside Stevie’s favorite fictional detectives.

Until next time Internet,

Deanna

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