Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little corner of the internet. Today I’m bringing you my review of the recently released The Box in the Woods, the latest edition to the Truly Devious series. This standalone novel comes after the trilogy of books spanning Stevie Bell’s investigation of the Truly Devious case, and I was really looking forward to getting back in the company of some of my favourite young adult characters.
This book (and review!) is spoiler free in relation to the trilogy, but read them first to better know the characters involved. Here are my reviews of the previous books:
The Vanishing Stair
The Hand on the Wall
Amateur sleuth Stevie Bell needs a good murder. After catching a killer at her high school, she’s back at home for a normal (that means boring) summer.
But then she gets a message from the owner of Sunny Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls—the site of the notorious unsolved case, the Box in the Woods Murders. Back in 1978, four camp counselors were killed in the woods outside of the town of Barlow Corners, their bodies left in a gruesome display. The new owner offers Stevie an invitation: Come to the camp and help him work on a true crime podcast about the case.
Stevie agrees, as long as she can bring along her friends from Ellingham Academy. Nothing sounds better than a summer spent together, investigating old murders.
But something evil still lurks in Barlow Corners. When Stevie opens the lid on this long-dormant case, she gets much more than she bargained for. The Box in the Woods will make room for more victims. This time, Stevie may not make it out alive.
The Truly Devious books have been some of my top reads this year, so I had high expectations from The Box in the Woods. There are pros and cons to doing a standalone after writing a trilogy, and I think author Maureen Johnson managed to balance them out to swing in her favour when it comes to looking at this book both as said standalone, and also as book four in a series.
One of the difficulties both for us as readers and for Stevie as an investigator is that we haven’t got the history or familiarity with the case as we had with Truly Devious. Stevie is familiar with it, but not more than that, and as much as she can gather from the files put together for her in advance, she needs real people, real evidence, and a real place to start. She’s both helped and hindered by the man running the camp – and planning to make a podcast about the investigation – but is so desperate to be both investigating again and reuinited with her friends that she forces herself to cope.
Because previously we’ve seen on case spread across three books, this did feel a bit rushed at points, even though I know exactly why it felt like that. It’s a standalone, so it was going to feel different, but it was hard to adjust to the pacing.
I was glad to see all our favourite characters again, and have them reunited with Stevie, knowing that’s when the fun was really going to begin. It made the American idea of camp, which has always had appeal to me, seem utterly terrifying, so thank you to the author for reassuring me I haven’t missed anything cruital from my childhood.
The mystery itself was well plotted and thought through, and althought I say the pacing was different to adjust to, there was no shortage of excitment packed into this book! Stevie still manages to do all the investigation she needs in the space of a week, like the absolute badass she is.
One of the things I really love about this series, and about this book in particular, is the realistic character development. Stevie is an awkward human being who can talk about crime for hours but hates actual human interactions, suffers with anxiety, and who makes mistakes. Over the course of the four books we’ve had with her, she’s made some progress to getting her anxiety under control (sometimes) and apologising for her mistakes (also sometimes), but it hasn’t happened overnight. The development is there, and is happening, but is realistic, which is so much better than the magic fix some books seem to put their characters through: snap, and you’re perfect! All the human errors for me please.
I read this in a day, loved every word, and am now in withdrawl, awaiting book five, please and thank you.