Amy Caudill‘s review
A decades-old mystery, a young girl who is determined to solve it, and a cast of brilliant but dysfunctional teenagers who may or may not know more than they think-sounds like a good recipe for a book, doesn’t it?
In the first volume of the series by author Maureen Johnson, Stevie Bell has just been accepted at the elite Ellingham Academy, a school for talented and exceptional teenagers. One of her classmates is a web star for a series he supposedly wrote, starred in, and produced himself. One is a bestselling author. Another is an artist. There are also an engineer, a computer programmer, and Stevie, who studies cold cases and wants to crack the case surrounding the school’s now deceased and mysterious owner.
The book transitions back and forth between the present day and the events in the 1930s, when Albert Ellingham received a note, written as a poem with letters cut from newspapers and magazines, which seemingly foretold of the horrifying fate that befell his wife and young daughter. Iris and Alice Ellingham, whom we only learn of from the accounts of others, were kidnapped, held for ransom, but never returned to Albert in the isolated mountain top school.
Iris’ body is later found, but of Alice there is no trace but a single shoe. A major investigation by the FBI ensues, and a suspect is arrested, tried and convicted, but the little girl is never seen again.
In the present day, Stevie sees or perhaps dreams that a new message, in the same style and signed by Truly Devious, appears on her bedroom wall at night. She is not entirely sure if it is real, but the next day a classmate is found dead. Stevie finally has her chance to participate in a real investigation instead of simply reading about them, but will she endanger herself, alienate her friends, and destroy her relationship with her maybe boyfriend in the process?
I loved the setting of this book, in an isolated mountainside in upstate Maine. The grounds of the mansion/school are beautiful, and add to the suspense of the story. I also enjoyed the premise; a modern-day murder that echoes an older mystery; though there were a few points that irked me on this one. Even though this is the first book of a quadrilogy, I would have expected at least some resolution by the end of its 420 pages. The story moves at a slow pace, but at the end of this volume we have only one death and the disappearance of another student who may or may not have been responsible. The solution to the older mystery, such as it may be, was not even touched on.
I enjoyed the first book, but I’m not sure I liked it enough to stick with it through three more volumes to for the mysteries to be solved. That is why I only gave this book three stars.