This is the sequel to Truly Devious, which I reviewed last year. My main issue with that particular book is that it introduced two mysteries – a cold case from long ago involving the murder of a student and the kidnapping of the boarding school’s founder’s wife and daughter; and the murder of a student in the present day – and then didn’t solve either of them by the end of the book. It’s like Maureen Johnson took my pet peeve with some mystery series and then doubled down on it. Thankfully, The Vanishing Stair is a bit better when it comes to cliffhangers. There’s still a huge one, but one of the mysteries is mostly solved (albeit primarily via flashbacks, which feels a bit like a cheat) with a few tantalizing threads left dangling. The other mystery is still, well, a mystery. And it’s possible Johnson introduced a third mystery in this book, which also isn’t solved, but really, I should expect that by now. (Plus it’s a great one!) There are enough big revelations to keep readers happy, and the plot moves along quickly, keeping the pages turning. Like in Truly Devious, the title is a reference to a riddle which plays a big part in the story, and the solution to the riddle is quite clever.
Johnson does a good job of deepening her characters’ relationships in this installment, putting Stevie in a tough situation from the outset and expanding upon the rift between her and David, as each of them feels betrayed by the other. Stevie is by no means a stand-in sleuth, either, who could be any teenager reading the book. She’s obsessed with the Ellingham case, yes, but that’s not the only thing that defines her. For one thing, she has strong political opinions, which is refreshing to see, since it seems like so many authors tend to shy away from having their teen characters react in any overt way to what’s currently happening politically (perhaps in order to avoid alienating some readers).
Like the first, I read this one on audio, and narrator Kate Rudd does an admirable job. I haven’t heard her in enough audiobook productions to recognize her voice, so for me, her voice is Stevie’s voice. She’s also pretty good at voicing male characters. She makes it easy to fall completely into the story.
The third book, and I hope the final (simply because I want answers and I want all of them!), is titled The Hand on the Wall and will be published in 2020. This is one series I’d recommend waiting to read until all volumes are out, but if you just can’t wait, Johnson does a really good job of recapping the first book without making it boring for readers who remember it all anyway. This series is a cut above other recent mysteries for teens, particularly with regard to plotting, and it should more than satisfy teen readers looking for their next great whodunnit (provided they don’t mind waiting a year or two for the solutions).