Stevie is struggling with her second year at Ellingham. Now that she’s solved her Big Case (and a few others), she’s not sure what to do next with her life. Most of her friends are applying to college, but Stevie is too paralyzed to even begin the process. To make things worse, her boyfriend is studying abroad in London, and she feels lost in the long distance. So when David invites her and her classmates to a short study abroad trip in London, Stevie jumps at the chance. To no one’s surprise, she ends up embroiled in a decades-old murder mystery almost the moment she arrives.
This is the fifth book in a loose series that includes an initial trilogy about the Ellingham murders, a bridge book in the summer between Stevie’s junior and senior year of high school, and now this, which is the start of something new. Unlike the former books, the mystery portion of the story is fully disclosed and wrapped up, but there are cliffhangers left in the catastrophe Stevie’s decisions make of her life near the end of the book. I can’t say more without spoilers, but it’s definitely a heavy tease for the next volume.
[A short note on the cold case: Nine friends – the best of friends – went out to a country estate to spend a week together before they all graduated from Cambridge and moved on to the next phase of their lives. While there, two of nine are murdered. That’s all I’m going to say about that.]
As usual in these books, the story is split between the interpersonal relationships among all the main characters, the past timeline/mystery, and the current solving of the past timeline/mystery. Because the murders in this case happened in 1995, the surviving players are all still alive. I honestly enjoyed both aspects of the book equally, but I also think that’s because this is the fifth book I’ve read in the series. If I wasn’t already attached to Stevie, Nate, Vi, Janelle, and David, I would likely have been quite annoyed by all the uncertainty and prevaricating that happens in the non-mystery bits of the book. This is why I don’t read a lot of YA anymore – I’m well past that age range, and I just raised three kids through it. I need a break from the vagaries of young transitional life. Knowing the characters, though, it was like visiting old friends, which was perfect for my first-of-the-year read!
I also really enjoyed the 90s timeline plot, though. The Nine (as they called themselves) were interesting characters, both as recent Cambridge graduates and in their present-day selves. They kept me guessing, provided an excellent parallel story of tight friendship groups to Stevie’s circle, and despite being general reprobates in college, have generally all become kind and caring people with nuanced lives. I really appreciated that, because they could have all too easily become a little two-dimensional, and they weren’t.
Definitely looking forward to the next volume!
Performance: Kate Rudd narrates this book as she has the former ones. In the beginning, I wasn’t really a fan of her reading, and only listened to Truly Devious on audio because the hold list was so long for the print book. Later, I continued to listen on audio because I was left with a pleasing longterm impression about the performance, despite not liking it initially. With each subsequent book, I had to adjust. Until this one. In this one, I liked it from the beginning, full circle from a few years ago. I thought Rudd was the perfect narrator and she did a phenomenal job with the many, many characters introduced here. Even though this was the first time I was meeting the Nine, it only took me a chapter or two before I always knew who was speaking by narration alone, and that’s impressive.