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“What do you do when the devil turns up in your living room and offers you everything you want?” Stevie. –The Vanishing Stairs        

The Vanishing Stair

Truly Devious #2

by Maureen Johnson

At A Glance
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The Truly Devious case—an unsolved kidnapping and triple murder that rocked Ellingham Academy in 1936—has consumed Stevie for years. It’s the very reason she came to the academy. But then her classmate is murdered, and her parents quickly pull her out of school. For her safety, they say, she must move past this obsession with crime.

Stevie’s willing to do anything to get back to Ellingham, be back with her friends, and solve the Truly Devious case. Even if it means making a deal with the despicable Senator Edward King. And when Stevie finally returns, she also returns to David: the guy she kissed and the guy who lied about his identity—Edward King’s son.

But larger issues are at play. Where did the murderer hide? What’s the meaning of the riddle Albert Ellingham left behind? And what, exactly, is at stake in the Truly Devious affair? The Ellingham case isn’t just a piece of history—it’s a live wire into the present.

The Vanishing Stairs will keep readers interested as new information is revealed both in Stevie’s personal life and in the Ellingham case she is investigating. Stevie is a sympathetic character, who struggles with panic attacks, isn’t always sure how to interact with others, and is curious enough to dig into the lives of the past. Now that one student has died and one student has disappeared, Stevie is more focused on finding out why Ellingham Academy seems to court danger.

While readers learn some information about the kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter, they also get a firsthand look into the events of 1936 as the book goes from past to present. Stevie’s investigation is able to shed light on some of the events in the kidnapping, but the crime also unfolds from several different characters’ perspectives which allows the reader to understand all aspects of the events. The crime is more complicated—and has more secrets—than expected.

The second installment in the Truly Devious Series begins right where the first one left off. Despite this, the story quickly and excellently explains the main events and important characters from the previous book. However, in order for readers to have an emotional connection to the characters, the series should be read in order.

The Vanishing Stairs is a fast-paced mystery that readers will not be able to put down. Both the interesting characters and the twisty mystery make this a perfect book to wrap up in a blanket and enjoy. However, be warned The Vanishing Stairs does not downplay violence, or the lengths people will go to hide their secrets.

Sexual Content

  • As Stevie is investigating the Ellingham case, she learns about Francis, who was a student at the school. While Francis does not know this, her biological father was a “handsome barman” that worked at a casino that many of New York’s rich frequented. The casino was where “bored society women like to spend their afternoons sipping drinks. . . and apparently doing other things.”
  • In 1936, two students, Francis and Eddie, meet in the woods where “he pressed her back into a tree. She took his face in both hands and kissed him roughly, running her hands down his back. . .” Both Francis and Eddie were “dirty” and “wild.”
  • Eddie was determined to disappoint his rich family. “There were tales of seducing maids, wandering naked through formal dinners, filling an entire bathroom with champagne.” His bad behavior was why he was sent to Ellingham Academy.
  • While making out with Eddie, the narration explains, Francis “had been with other boys before, but they fumbled. Eddie knew precisely what he was doing. . . He drew her down now and ran his hands along her side inch by inch until she hardly felt like she could bear it.”
  • While in the school cafeteria, someone says Janelle and her girlfriend, Vi, are “about to make out on top of those mugs.” Two other times, someone comments on their public displays of affection.
  • David and Stevie explore a hidden tunnel in the academy. David “ran his fingers down her jawline gently. . . He kept coming closer, slowly, testing his way, until his chest was against hers and she didn’t move. . .When her lips met his, she felt something release inside of her. . . There was something frantic about the way she kissed him, like being with him was the only way she could breathe.” The scene is described over half a page.


  • Stevie reads an article about Eddie’s death. “Edward Pierce Davenport spent the day consuming opium and violet champagne. . . After toasting the city and the setting sun, he downed a last glass of champagne and swan-dived from the building into the street below. His body landed on a Nazi vehicle, denting the roof.”
  • Dottie’s body was found by a delivery man. “He saw what appeared to be a sack on the ground. . . he realized there were two legs coming from the sack—at least parts of legs. They were discolored, ravaged by weather and wildlife.”
  • David said that his mother had an affair with “a guy in the state legislature who went to Beck’s gym.” During the affair, his mother got pregnant.
  • Ellingham purchased a clock that was reported to be owned by royalty. Ellingham wondered, “When had the murdered princess last looked at it? It had been spared the sight of her death, her head put on a spike and paraded through the streets of Paris. The head had even been displayed at her friend the queen’s prison window, a ghastly puppet.”
  • Stevie is in town when she sees a group of skaters. “One of them was repeatedly punching David in the face. . . There was a gash along his right cheek that was trickling blood. There was another cut above his eye. . . There was a bit of bloody spittle coming out of the side of his mouth.” Later Stevie discovers that David paid the skaters to beat him, but he doesn’t explain why.
  • Ellingham learns who was responsible for kidnapping his wife and child. The person explains how Dottie died. When trying to escape, Dottie “jumped right down into that hole trying to get away. . . I climbed down after her. There was so much blood. She was groaning and trying to crawl, but she couldn’t make it. . . Her skull must have been cracked wide open. . . So I grabbed a pipe. . . and just hit her once and she stopped moving.”
  • To confront the suspect, Ellingham takes the man out on a boat. When the man refuses to tell Ellingham where his daughter is, Ellingham blows up the boat killing both himself and the suspect. “Bits and pieces of boat and human would be found for weeks to come, washing up on the shore.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Ellingham Academy first opened, Ellingham “told the staff to turn the other way when students were caught drinking.”
  • When meeting a university professor at a coffee shop, Stevie notices that the professor has difficult walking alone. Later, at the professor’s house, Stevie sees the recycling full of “many wine bottles, two whisky bottles, a vodka bottle.”
  • When David was seven, his mother went into the bathroom “with a bottle of Chablis and passed out. She was red all over—the water was turned all the way up on the hot side.” When David found his mom, he called 911.
  • While “a little drunk,” David told a friend a secret.
  • While anxious, Stevie takes “one small white pill. The emergency Ativan that she carried ‘just in case.’”
  • It is revealed that Ellingham’s wife had been using cocaine.


  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, bastard, crap, damn, fuck, holy shit, and shit.
  • Jesus Christ, my God, God, and oh my God are used as exclamations frequently.
  • Stevie thinks Edward King is a “sanctimonious ass.”
  • Stevie calls several people dicks. For example, Stevie comments that a student’s friends are “real dicks.”
  • A security guard says, “Some jackass bought pumpkin-flavored K-Cups.”
  • A security guard tells Stevie, “Edward King is a son of a bitch and his son is a piece of work.”


  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None
Other books by Maureen Johnson
Other books you may enjoy

“What do you do when the devil turns up in your living room and offers you everything you want?” Stevie. –The Vanishing Stairs        

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