The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
“The wonderful thing about reality is that it is highly flexible. One minute, all is doom; the next, everything is abloom with possibility.”– Maureen Johnson
Book: The Hand on the Wall
Author: Maureen Johnson
Published: 21st Jan’2020
Genre: Mystery, YA Fiction
Series: Book 3 in the Truly Devious trilogy
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
My rating: 5/5
‘SCHOOLS SHOULD NOT BE FAMOUS FOR MURDERS’
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.
I picked up the book after much deliberation. Tbh, I wanted to read it as soon as I had my hands on it but I couldn’t and I regret that it is only today that I have been able to discover this masterpiece.
I picked it up and I couldn’t put it down. Trust me, because I tried. I could not sleep, eat or focus on anything else. Even as I finished it, it was all I could think of. I devoured the book. No, the book devoured me.
Books tend to do that sometimes. Be so good that they make you question your existence if you do not find out how they end!
The highly anticipated finale to the epitome of thriller trilogies that is The Truly Devious series, The Hand on the Wall was like a breeze of fresh air. It had everything that the previous books missed. Just the right amount of suspense, the right amount of sass, the right amount of teenage stupidity that leads to amazing adventures and breathtaking discoveries that support the plot so well, it hurts.
I had one problem with the first book that the main lead, Stevie Bell was a tad bit annoying but she grew so much through the series that I am so in awe with her. All the characters became their best selves and the author managed to shine light on everyone. I am glad that all the mysteries have been solved, both of the past and the present.
The book, just like its two predecessors, was narrated in two timelines. One is the present usually from Stevie Bells’ point of view and the other is of the happenings in the Ellingham Academy during the time of the original kidnappings and murders. Nowhere did I feel like I was being given too much to contemplate or too little. Never was I confused.
The narration is so smooth; it slides and wins you over. It is a medium sized book with around 365 pages but you would have been halfway through it in no time and wouldn’t realize. I am a huge fan of the writing. The author did an amazing job at impressing us not only with the plot but also her story-telling.
I have fan-girled about the book with so many people and I have seen that the reception is pretty common. Everyone simply loved it. From the story, to the characters, to the narration and to the peace it brings us from knowing the mystery in its entirety, the book was amazing.
I rate it 5/5 stars. (I am still squealing, as I write this)
“Anxiety, her therapist had told her many times, never killed anyone. It felt like death, but it was an illusion. A terrible illusion that inhabited your body and tried to make it its puppet. It told you nothing mattered because everything was made of fear.”– Maureen Johnson
Here is how I got my second 5/5 read of the year.
First of all, the plot twists! They were some that were subtle and others, breathtaking. Starting off with simple ones like Hunter being called to stay in the academy following his aunts death or David randomly coming up to the academy and asking his fellow house-mates to hide long enough so that they get to stay back given that the blizzard will make it hard for them to leave later (This honestly felt like a lock-down situation but in a very beautiful place stuffed with everything they need to survive and more – a quarantine picnic)
Then there were huge and clever discoveries like Francis’ diary that led them to the underground grotto, the painting made by Leonardo Holmes Nair focusing on the dome where Alice was buried and importantly the fact that Alice wasn’t the birth-child of the Ellinghams. As I kept reading and discovering, my life started feeling more and more complete!
My favorite parts were the discovery of Alice by George Marsh, David destroying the racist billboard put up by his dad’s campaign near Stevie’s house using the dynamite found in the underground grotto (that was immensely clever), the whole trapped in the academy situation, the wall scanner leading them to discover so many things and Stevie keeping the one last secret of the secret adoption of Alice by the Ellinghams, a secret so that the money from the codicil would go to the academy and not herself.
“Every contact leaves a trace.”– Maureen Johnson
The most heart wrenching and touching part was a little addition of Iris, Albert and Alice having a conversation in the Ballroom that was built for 101 couples like a normal family after the mystery is solved.
Stevie could hear her playing. She was running through the ballroom, her tiny patent leather shoes sliding on the floor, a ball bouncing ahead of her.
“Should we let her have the ball in here?” Iris said, “With the mirrors?”
“Of course!” said Albert. “It will be alright. Come on now, Alice! Give it a bounce! When you bounce your ball in here, you will see a hundred bouncing balls!”
Some clever lines were said that make so much sense to the current situation. One that stole the show and made me roll on the floor laughing was:
“Why were humans wired like this? Why were we built with a current that could short out our powers of reason and judgment at any time? Why were we filled with chemicals that make us stupid? How could you feel so excited and enraged and like you were being pierced with a thousand emotional needles in the brain all at the same time?”
I have one concern and it probably is stupid but I was really rooting for Stevie and David to find a way to open the hatch in the underground grotto apart from using the dynamite. Given that it was a secret lair with a way to enter, may be it had a way to exit too? However, this does not take away my amazement at the book.
The Ellingham Mystery solved: (This is my understanding)
- George Marsh with the help of two goons tried to kidnap Iris to clear a debt of around 20,000 dollars that he landed in due to gambling.
- It went wrong in many ways starting with Alice accompanying her mother on this particular trip and the two goons getting greedy to keep all the money to them.
- The discovery of George Marsh by Dottie Epstein leading to the fateful fall to her death in the tunnel in the lake only contributed to complicate the matters.
- Following the kidnapping, Iris tries to escape and is shot and Alice is taken to a nice family for safe-keeping.
- Meanwhile, George Marsh discovers that Alice is her daughter, the result of a fling between him and Flora Robinson.
- He tries to find her with all his will now and succeeds at it but unfortunately, she has succumbed to measles.
- In a rage, he kills one of the goons that led him to her and the family that didn’t get medical help and brings the remains of Alice back to bury near her family.
- He buries her in the tunnel assuming that the occupants of the house are back but Leo finds out and confronts him to which he says that it is for the good of Albert.
- Albert later deciphers from the sentence that Dottie underlines on her book that George Marsh is involved and decides to end things with a blast on the boat ride in Lake Chaplin.
- Leo makes a painting dedicated to the Ellinghams highlighting the presence of Alice in the dome and hides the codicil to prevent further claims and chaos.
- The truly devious letter is revealed to be a revenge-prank by Francis and Eddie.
All that I care about starts at nine
Dance twelve hundred steps on the northern line
To the left bank three hundred times
Tiptoe-Excerpt from the personal diary of Francis (Maureen Johnson)
The current mystery solved: (This is my understanding)
- The trunk containing the remains of Alice is found during a process of clearing the tunnel to build an art barn by Charles and he sees an opportunity at getting 70 million dollars, all to himself.
- He deciphers a plan of having someone outside Ellingham find out the body because the staff of Ellingham cannot claim the fortune to themselves.
- In this process, he murder Hayes who overhears his discussions about the body, Ellie, who is a close confidant to Hayes and Dr Irene Fenton who fails to comply his request and wants to give Alice some justice.
- Doubting that Stevie might decipher this, he shines a message at her wall to make her sound like a lunatic after Hayes’ murder.
- He also rigs Janelle’s machine to finally evacuate the space to find a place to bury her body to be found by someone later and to claim the money.
- However, our clever Stevie sees through all of this and confronts him. She also finds Alice’s remains with the help of Larry and Janelle’s wall scanner.
- Charles, in an attempt to escape, falls to his death and is later proved with substantial evidence to be involved in the three murders.
Not gonna discuss the characters in detail because it is a trilogy and there are characters from the past and the present but props to the growth that they had through the series. This has to be made into a movie. Someone, please make this into a movie.
Reasons to pick up the book:
- Answers to all questions are in here
- Clever and smooth writing
- The mystery is very well constructed
- Strong and well built characters
- The plot will sweep you off of your feet
- Has a map
- The series is over, there is nothing after it
- Things like murder can be a trigger
“Anxiety does not ask your permission. Anxiety does not come when expected. It’s very rude. It barges in at the strangest moments, stopping all activity, focusing everything on itself It sucks the air our of your lungs and scrambles the world.”– Maureen Johnson