3 star, YA

Review: Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson

Senior year at Ellingham Academy for Stevie Bell isn’t going well. Her boyfriend, David, is studying in London. Her friends are obsessed with college applications. With the cold case of the century solved, Stevie is adrift. There is nothing to distract her from the questions pinging around her brain—questions about college, love, and life in general.

Relief comes when David invites Stevie and her friends to join him for study abroad, and his new friend Izzy introduces her to a double-murder cold case. In 1995, nine friends from Cambridge University went to a country house and played a drunken game of hide-and-seek. Two were found in the woodshed the next day, murdered with an ax.

The case was assumed to be a burglary gone wrong, but one of the remaining seven saw something she can’t explain. This was no break-in. Someone’s lying about what happened in the woodshed.

Seven suspects. Two murders. One killer still playing a deadly game.

Overall Recommendation:

Nine Liars continues to demonstrate the beauty of a stand-alone mystery in this series following amateur detective Stevie Bell. A bit of fun sightseeing in London plus a cast of 9 adults who are all suspect of the mysterious deaths among their own group makes for an entertaining read. Slow at times but it picks up in places that propel me to continue. A solid mystery concept but with a subpar romance at the heart.

In the continuing vein of The Box in the Woods, this next installment of standalone mystery following Stevie Bell was fun but not quite as intriguing for a few reasons I’ll explain below. While Nine Liars did keep me guessing with the whodunnit, it lacked suspense and the momentum propelling us to the end that even the original trilogy mystery had in some ways.

The setting is London (which is awesome because I love that city). Stevie and friends are back at school in their senior year but lo and behold, they get a chance to go to London for a short “educational” trip and the opportunity for Stevie to reunite with her boyfriend David. Did I mention I hold no particular love for David? More on that relationship after.

The backdrop made for a wonderful sightseeing story that interlaced parts of London into the plot, however the majority was spent at the setting of the crime in the middle of nowhere a few hours away from the big city. Here’s where the plot pacing takes a plunge. Normally a flashback may help at the beginning to allow us omniscient readers to understand more pieces earlier in the mystery. And that’s true here too. BUT then it just keeps on going. Flashing to the present with Stevie & co. and then back to the past every so often that is not a short chapter. All those breaks kind of had the opposite effect for me by breaking up any suspense the current day investigation was heading.

The mystery itself was intriguing. Nine close friends enter the mansion that night but not all were found alive the next morning. Was it really just passersby who avoided the cameras and killed them when they came upon such strangers at the wrong time? Or could it be someone in the group, a bad seed that to the present day no one has figured out yet? I like the paranoia and equal suspicion thrown on all of the remaining group. It’s definitely interesting but the execution wasn’t.

That being said, being in Stevie’s head in this book sucked. I’m not kidding. Yes, she has a wonderful mind that picks up on things no one else may think is worthy of noting. I’ve always liked that about her and at book 5, I’ve gotten quite used to it. But she was too in her head this time, with thoughts of David and her insecurities about their relationship. Sure, it’s something different than a detective with no other defining traits than her crime solving skills, but this was painful to watch unfold. I’m definitely Team Stevie because David never seemed worthy of her in my opinion.

All this to say, I would recommend this book in some ways for its mystery even though it wasn’t executed as well as it could be. It may be more enjoyable for some because they love the cast of characters already and can overlook the other issues I had with it. If you’re someone who didn’t like the characters at all…well, there are plenty of other mysteries out there, I promise.

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