Book Review: THE HAND ON THE WALL by Maureen Johnson

Title in white on spotted green
Genre: Mystery
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: yes - third book

*SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for TRULY DEVIOUS and THE VANISHING STAIR*

Blurb:

Book cover for THE HAND ON THE WALL: title in white on a green clock

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.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

If you read this series in one go and treat is as one book (like I’ve just done), it’s moderately satisfying, but if you read it as three separate books (like I’ve done before), it really isn’t.

I suppose it comes down to what you define as a mystery book. To me, it’s a book where, within that book, the mystery you were promised by the blurb and set up is solved by the end. That does not happen in this series. The mysteries (Iris and Alice, Hayes, and Ellie) aren’t solved in the book they’re introduced in . You have to wait at least one book.

Not to mention the main mystery (the cold case), the entire premise of the series right from TRULY DEVIOUS, isn’t even solved (for the reader) by Stevie. No, we get told the answers in the past timeline by the characters confessing or confronting others. This really undermined the tension for me, because when Stevie is closing in on answers (and only half the answers), the reader has already known it for a while.

For example, the reader gets the big piece of information at the end of the second book (THE VANISHING STAIR), so we know the main culprit all the way through this book, and watch the cover up and fall out while Stevie is still trying to figure it all out. That’s not a mystery for me, that’s being handed the answers and then being asked to remain interested in someone working out half of what I already know.

The mysteries we do get to watch being solved in “real time” are the modern ones – Hayes, Ellie, and a few that happen in this book. I’ll be honest, I worked that one out pretty quickly from a line from the murderer that was too offhand and specific. That then got confirmed by another scene that laid out the motive, and so that meant there wasn’t tension there (though that was my “fault” for working it out!)

I can see why this series is so popular, but unfortunately it didn’t fulfil the basic things that make a mystery a mystery for me. I want the whodunit to be unknown, I want to be trying to puzzle it out alongside the detective, not have it handed to me on a platter because of flashbacks.

Despite this, I am quite tempted to see what the next book, the first of the spin offs, is like. I like the format used to tell the story – the flashbacks worked so well in the first book to tease out the strangeness around the case. I like multi-media, with the transcripts and newspaper/blog articles. I wonder if it would all work better for me personally when in standalone format where the mystery has to be solved at the end of the book.


Read my reviews of other books by Maureen Johnson:

Truly Devious (this series):

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