It’s always difficult to read the final book in a beloved series. Not only is there the sadness of saying goodbye to favorite characters, but it’s also inevitable that you’re going to come into it with so many expectations and so much that you’re hoping to see. Still, I allowed myself to fully lean into my expectations, my hopes, and hype myself up for The Hand on the Wall. Why did I do this despite knowing that so often this is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment? Because I knew-—I just knew—-that Maureen Johnson wouldn’t disappoint.
I honestly struggled with writing this review. For one, I just have so many thoughts about this incredible series that I don’t even know where to start. For another, this series means so much to me that I am terrified that my review won’t be able to do it justice. I’m going to try, however, because I want to encourage every single person to go and read this fantastic series.
The Hand on the Wall begins with Stevie, who’s now with the knowledge that she’s done it. She’s done exactly what she set out to do—solve the Truly Devious case, the greatest case of the last century. You might be asking yourself “okay then, so what more is there if the case has already been solved?”
SO MUCH MORE.
Three people are dead. And while Stevie has solved the Ellingham murders, questions surrounding the three recent deaths remain as unsolved as ever. Stevie knows that there has to be a connection, but with another accident at Ellingham Academy and a massive blizzard on the horizon, the administration has no choice but to evacuate the school, leaving Stevie with only a few days to finally uncover the truth.
That there’s so much more to the series than the underlying mystery is one of my favorite parts of this series. While there’s the underlying Truly Devious mystery, Johnson’s thoughtfully-plotted series is about so much more than the Ellingham murders. And Johnson provides enough answers such that (1) you’re not crawling out of your own skin with frustration by the end of each book, and (2) the final book doesn’t sag with the weight of carrying the entire story and its solution on its shoulders.
Johnson infuses witty banter, raw honesty, and compelling plot, resulting in a page-turning journey. Even though this is the least relatable story and situation ever—an intrepid young detective solves a famous murder while at a fancy mountain school for geniuses—you feel a certain sense of camaraderie with Stevie and her peers. Johnson’s imagery and banter are so engaging that you feel completely caught up in the story and the characters.
Further, Johnson’s writing is fabulous but it’s clear that she knows when to not take herself too seriously. For example, she can, in the same sentence, deliver beautiful imagery and laugh-out-loud humor:
“When spring came to the Ellingham mountain, she came in glory, whipping her robes of fresh air and spreading fecund greenery over the mountain like a goddess on a fecund greenery-spreading binge.”
It’s this tongue-in-cheek tone to her work that makes it so approachable.
In sum, go read this series. I cannot recommend it enough. The Hand on the Wall was a supremely satisfying conclusion to one of the greatest series I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I am absolutely devastated that it’s over but I’m so excited to start it all over again.
“Stevie would rather eat bees than share her tender inner being with anyone else—she didn’t even want to share it with herself. So she had to walk the fine line between seeming vulnerable and showing emotion in front of Charles, because displaying real emotion would be gross.”
“Stevie had no concept at all of what Dr. Quinn was saying, but sometimes, quite by accident, you find yourself vibrating on someone else’s frequency. You can follow the sense of the thing, if not the literal meaning. Sometimes, this is more important and more informative.”
“Every contact leaves a trace.”
“The wonderful thing about reality is that it is highly flexible. One minute, all is doom; the next, everything is abloom with possibility.”
“Charles had a look on his face that said, ‘I’m not angry, but I am disappointed.’ Dr. Quinn’s expression said, ‘He’s passive-aggressive. I’m not. I am aggressive. I have killed before.’“
“Anxiety does not ask your permission. Anxiety does not come when expected. It’s very rude. It barges in at the strangest moments, stopping all activity, focusing everything on itself.”