All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.
For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.
The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.
How am I supposed to….go on being a person after that ending?
Let me preface this by stating that this entire review could be replaced by a footage of me striding down a big hallway in a fancy period gown yelling “fuck fuck fuck” because that would more accurately sum up all my feelings.
So, what’s this book about?
Stevie is cast away from the Ellingham academy by her parents and promptly ordered to push the sour remains of her time in Ellingham to the back of her mind. But Stevie’s mind is still awhirl with thoughts and memories, and, at the center of everything: the mystery of “Truly, Devious”. She’d gone looking for answers, and gotten none, and the puzzle wouldn’t let her go. Now her friend is missing, one of her classmates is dead and When Edward King, the abhorrent politician Stevie’s parents work for, offers her a private jet ride to the academy in exchange of keeping his son in line, Stevie doesn’t hesitate before she claws at the offer with both hands.
Stevie thought she could catch the mystery of Ellingham like fireflies in a jar, but the enormity of it soon reaches out to catch her. Now she’s churned under the horrid sense that fate was hunting and had already picked out its quarry.
I finished this book with the sudden urge to pace, bitter and frantic and feeling every second of my frustration and deprivation. It was almost unbearable to come so close to getting answers, to barely feel and almost taste before being snatched away and left to walk the circle of my own thoughts, which centered partly on the question of: who the hell was the first person to invent the concept of cliffhangers and have they ever issued a public apology?
I really loved this book. The Vanishing Stair is immaculately plotted and a real page-turner. It’s outstandingly enjoyable and addictive. The author craftily takes on two timelines, two chilling mysteries with truly elusive solutions, multiple deaths and supports all of that with engaging characters and a strong action-thriller backbone. The result is a remarkably smooth narrative experience.
This sequel really outdid its predecessor. Secrets swell to bursting, tension rises, the pace picks up, dread lances through every moment and the story corkscrews into a tighter and tighter coil before it ends abruptly and leaves you panting for more. I was completely riveted. The characters dig up the past, push for answers, tip the dominoes, and alongside them, burning threads were racing through my mind, connecting far-flung dots and filling in blanks, erasing question marks and adding a dozen more for every one erased, before the truth is unraveled and recognition sparks, sharp as a shock.
I love Stevie’s character and how she often blurs the line between caution and daring, unwilling to yield to the tiresome compromise that striking balance between the two tends to be. She doesn’t dwell on the possibility that her ambition to solve a centuries-old mystery may lay far beyond her talent, instead, she accelerates towards doom and peril without thinking ahead of the repercussions. It’s pretty fun to spend time inside her head. I’ve also grown so fond of the cast of characters. Nate, especially, is my absolute favorite. If I were a fictional character, I’d totally be him: he’s extremely introverted, has zero conversational skills, represses emotional trauma, is unimpressed by the risks the main characters are taking because, and I quote, “why. do. people. do. stupid. things,” and will probably still be alive by the end of the series. New characters are introduced as well, demanding the spotlight for themselves and leading to further entanglements, like the eccentric Dr. Irene Fenton who wrote about the Ellingham murders and recruits Stevie’s help to further her research.
I think my one and only quibble with this book is that I wanted more page time with David and Stevie. Their relationship has grown fraught with the untold weight of their secrets and I just wanted to grab them both by the shoulders and scream: “PLEASE COMMUNICATE.”
Overall, The Vanishing Stair was an immensely engrossing and rollicking experience and I can’t wait for the story to drag out all its secrets in the next and final installment!