The Hand on the Wall: Truly Devious, Book 3

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Hand on the Wall: Truly Devious, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Boarding school mystery finale is a twisty page-turner.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

References to detectives in mystery novels, especially Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. Plus spoilers from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. The book's title comes from Belshazzar's Feast in the Bible (Book of Daniel). An explanation and demonstration of a Rube Goldberg machine, talk of the principles of physics, and some general anatomy. Some incidental history from the Great Depression.

Positive Messages

Examines the corrupting influence of wealth in two different timelines: the present and the 1930s. Truth and justice win out here, but after much sacrifice and bending of the rules.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stevie gains confidence as a detective and trusts her instincts more here, though flouts the rules plenty and endangers her own life to follow her leads. She suffers from panic attacks and doesn't allow them to take over her life. The school is diverse, with different talents (metalworking to video game design), different ethnicities, and LGBTQ representation and celebration.


Deaths by bludgeoning, measles, and a fall. Much talk of mystery surrounding deaths that happen in previous books: through a house fire, suffocation, a fall and bludgeoning, a shooting, and a boat explosion. Bodies are exhumed and buried, an arm is broken.


Teens in the 1930s have sex, with little described beyond the fact that it fit with their wild personalities. Teens, straight and LGBTQ, kiss. The main character falls asleep with her boyfriend at least partially undressed.


Regular use of everything from "s--t" to "a--hole" and "d--k" in heated conversation. "Bitch" used rarely. Shouts of "Jesus!" when someone is startled.


Stevie shops at L.L. Bean and takes Ativan for anxiety. Some mentions of social media, but more general than in previous books in the series.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking, cocaine use, and drinking (gin, whiskey, champagne) mostly in the 1930s. Mentions of present-day professor with a drinking problem who smoked.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Hand on the Wall is the final book in the acclaimed mystery trilogy by Maureen Johnson, author of the Shades of London series. The story takes place at a school for gifted students in Vermont where a kidnaping and murder happened in the 1930s. The main character, Stevie, comes to the campus to study the old crime and ends up also investigating the death of two students and a professor that happened in Book 1 and Book 2. There are also deaths by bludgeoning, measles, and a fall, plus a broken arm and the exhumation of remains. This is a school setting for juniors and seniors. Students swear in most conversations, straight and LGBTQ characters kiss and fall asleep together, and they break a lot of rules and are only mildly punished for it. Drinking, smoking, and drug use happens mostly in the 1930s. Two students also have sex in the 1930s with little described. Surrounding all the crimes, past and present, is the corrupting power of wealth. Stevie, seems immune to these influences and stays focused on finding justice and the truth for the deceased.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written bylychee32 February 18, 2020

Excellent End to a Thrilling Trilogy

This novel was, entirely, enthralling. I only put down my Kindle to use the bathroom and eat. A perfect end to a marvelous series, I truly do miss the time I s... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byWesis39 June 6, 2020


This was a great end to the Truly Devious trilogy!!! I love this trilogy!! It was a great ending. Maureen Johnson is a truly amazing author!

What's the story?

In THE HAND ON THE WALL, Stevie is reeling after the death of her advisor from a house fire. She knows it's no accident, like the other deaths at Ellingham School. She just needs to prove it, like she solved the cold case that originally brought her there. But she may not get the chance to look into the crime at all. Her house mate's Rube Goldberg invention goes haywire -- mysteriously -- and breaks a student's arm, prompting the closure of the school for the rest of the semester. As everyone prepares to go home in a hurry ahead of a massive blizzard, Stevie's ex, David, shows up with a proposition for Stevie and her friends to ride out the storm at the school in secret. It may just be the time Stevie needs to solve the case before she leaves Ellingham for good, or it may be a decision that leads to disaster.

Is it any good?

This hip mystery trilogy finale is an addictive page-turner that piles on the murder plots and intrigue in two time periods. When Stevie and jer friends in The Hand on the Wall get trapped in a Vermont blizzard, you'll wish you were in similar straits, just so you can speed to the big reveals at the end without interruption.

All the fun elements of classic mysteries are here: secret passageways and family secrets aplenty, the gathering of the suspects in a mansion, ransoms and kidnappings, and millions of dollars at stake. Author Maureen Johnson takes these classic components and spins them into something modern with a relatable teen sleuth who suffers regular panic attacks, her eclectic group of talented friends, and a rebellious love interest with a very Trump-like father. This is the kind of absorbing series that teens and up will be reading and rereading for years to come.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Stevie's decision at the end of The Hand on the Wall. What is she not telling? Why?

  • Whom did you suspect throughout the series for murders past and present? Did it change with each book? Were you right? 

  • Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes mysteries are mentioned often in this series. Will you read some of the classics after reading this mystery series?

Book details

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