4.5 star, YA

ARC Review: The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #4

After solving the case of Truly Devious, Stevie Bell investigates her first mystery outside of Ellingham Academy in this spine-chilling and hilarious stand-alone mystery from New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.

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 Box in the Woods comes out June 15, 2021**

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

Did you think the story was over? Guess again.

Our favorite high school sleuth, Stevie Bell, is out for the summer. At home, you guessed it, bored. What’s a summer after you (technically) solved the cold case murder mystery of the century? Well, time to jump into another case, right?

While I, maybe like a lot of you who’ve perhaps read the trilogy, thought that was the end, boy am I glad that there’s more! I think I loved this one even more than the previous books. Why? Because:

A) it’s a self contained murder mystery within this one book instead of spread across 3 books where I will forget details and lose suspense with the wait time between novels

B) we already know Stevie and her friends well that it’s like slipping on old shoes and seeing them at their best (or worst) without unnecessary fanfare

So, what’s our favourite sleuth up to this time? A creeptastic multi-murder case set in a summer camp. Perfect for a summer read huh? Perhaps while at a camp?

Like her other books, Johnson has some throwback POVs detailing the moments during or after the crime that we’re solving, leaving little bits of crumbs that make us want to know MORE than what’s given at the time. 4 camp counsellors go off into the woods…and none return. Capture your attention yet? And what does this have to do with some box in the woods?

Besides Stevie, we get all the fan favourite characters back. Her ingenious best friend Janelle and writer-blocked Nate are both dragged into this new adventure. And for those who like an ounce of romance with their mystery, I will say that David will be around too, so don’t get too wrung out about that. Personally, I prefer a little less romance in this department (is it just me that I feel their relationship isn’t the strongest?) but it was the right amount in this book for me.

With a whole new cast of suspects set in small town America, whatever could go wrong trying to solve yet another cold case mystery? I loved the suspense as Stevie’s mind does its thing, collecting information and piecing together little bits that don’t yet fully make sense into a picture. Maureen Johnson is a genius, honestly, because I didn’t fully see that conclusion coming. I was racing until the end to finish this (made training for the new job kinda hard!) For Stevie’s big reveal.

Fans of the Truly Devious series can rest assured that this additional companion stand-alone mystery doesn’t ruin anything from the trilogy. In fact, I dare say it adds something extra to this world that I would hope to see expanded upon. Who knows? Maybe Stevie Bell can be our modern day Nancy Drew, solving one cold case at a time wherever she may go with her helpful friends. (Maureen, this is where I’m asking you to write more of these standalone books with Stevie.)

Overall Recommendation:

The Box in the Woods far exceeded my expectations as the highly anticipated companion standalone mystery follow up to the original trilogy. Stevie Bell has been invited to help solve another cold case set at a summer camp decades ago. With the companionship and help of her two best friends from school, this is Stevie at her best but now outside of the grounds of Ellingham Academy. I loved the pacing, the storytelling with bits of flashback to the time of the murders, and the clues dropped throughout that only made sense in hindsight. Genius, truly! Plus, our favourite characters are continually developing and making me laugh at their antics. I hope to see more of Stevie and co. in different mystery settings in the future.

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