Ellingham Academy: “A place where learning is a game.”


In “The Vanishing Stair” by Maureen Johnson, Stevie Bell is attempting to solve the mystery of The Ellingham case, a case which has remained unsolved for over 80 years and no new evidence has been found since then.

Ellingham Academy, at the time, was a very prestigious school where only highly recognized people of society put their children for education. It is located in the secluded hill tops of Vermont, near Burlington. 

This book is part of the Truly Devious series and is the second book. There is a third novel that is expected to come out in 2020, “The Hand on the Wall”; definitely a book to look forward to.

While reading, it wasn’t easy to tell that this book was part of a series. Without reading the very first book in the trilogy, I was a bit confused when it was skipping back and forth between time periods; the time the actual murder happened and the present when Stevie is attempting to solve the 80 year old mystery.

Not reading the first book was not the best way to start the series obviously, but in the case of starting in the middle of the series, it is pretty easy to catch up as the author is very good about including details from the past and integrating Stevie’s past experiences in her thoughts and actions.

While researching the background of this story, the majority of the characters, Ellingham Academy, and The Ellingham case were real. Albert Ellingham was a perfectly real person. In the early twentieth century, the wealthy man along with his wife and daughter founded the Academy. There are countless tunnels running throughout the grounds and riddles everywhere. One of the most important riddles is a poem made out of cut-out magazine letters, which was then signed by Truly Devious. More cryptic and fear-inducing riddles are woven throughout the novel and series.

On the very first page before chapter one, the book quotes “Where do you look for someone who’s never really there? Always on a staircase, but never on a stair.” This riddle is said to have been found on the desk of Albert Ellingham; the founder of the Academy and riddle enthusiast, the day he died; October 30, 1938. The quote above in the title was said by him about his school.

Follow Stevie through the rest of her journey through her studies of the famous and one of the  greatest unsolved American mysteries, The Ellingham case in the book “The Vanishing Stair” and “The Hand on the Wall” or catch up by reading the first novel “Truly Devious”.

Though it was on the longer side, it was a very quick read as it was captivating while adding history and opening the door to the past.