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  • The Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4) by Maureen Johnson

The fourth mystery in Johnson's Truly Devious series delivers more smart, creative sleuthing from Stevie Bell and the gang, great dialogue, twisty events, unsolved elements from the past and present, and a denouement I didn't predict.

“...hear me out. This whole thing is ticking a lot of the horror movie boxes. Murder at a sleepaway camp. A serial killer. A final girl. A kid who died because some teenagers were being irresponsible.”

The Box in the Woods is another smart, funny, intriguing young adult mystery from Maureen Johnson.

This stand-alone novel from the author of the Truly Devious trilogy (Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stair, and The Hand on the Wall) follows the irresistibly single-minded, gifted, wonderfully oddball Stevie Bell as she takes her sleuthing skills outside of Ellingham Academy for the first time.

Johnson's Truly Devious series offers dark scenes, wicked mysteries, blossoming attractions, loyal and complementary friendships, and excellent banter in a combination I love.

The Box in the Woods offers more of this excellent mix, with a playful and horrifying 1980s and 1990s slasher-movie campiness (see what I did there?). The story is set at a small-town summer camp (Nate repeatedly and entertainingly references Friday the 13th). Stevie is recruited by a young entrepreneur with a passion for true-crime podcasts to revisit a murder mystery surrounding decades-old events that took place at the camp in rural Barlow Corners. The details of the deaths are haunting, the stakes for poking into the past remain sky-high, everyone in town is a potential suspect, and the danger is far from over.

Johnson sets up a premise in which a good number of Stevie's friends from Ellingham are reunited to work at the camp and be together. This allows for the cooperative problem-solving that I adore in the rest of the series. Her friends' talents and support buoy Stevie's unique ability to piece together details and see the truth. (And Nate might even be writing again, if his irritating young superfan camper Lucas has anything to do with it.) The secondary characters of Lucas!, Allison, Nate, Janelle, and David and their dialogue are fantastic as always.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Maureen Johnson also wrote the young adult Shades of London series, which is based on Jack the Ripper's crimes. I'd like to give that a go too; the first title is The Name of the Star.

Her newest book, Nine Liars, which also features Stevie Bell, is scheduled for publication December 27, 2022.

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