Teen sleuth Stevie Bell is back! It’s the autumn of her senior year at Ellingham Academy, and she and her friends Nate, Janelle and Vi have been invited by Stevie’s boyfriend, David, to join him in London to solve another cold case. One rain-soaked night 1995, nine inseparable friends played a game of hide-and-seek on the country estate of Merryweather. The next morning revealed the brutally murdered bodies of two of the nine companions. A burglary gone awry was the official explanation, but Izzy, the teenage niece of one of the original nine, recently learned that her aunt saw something unusual that night but never reported it to the police. That information points to a long-hidden secret: One of the nine may be a murderer.
As Stevie and her friends pursue leads and attempt to convince the head of Ellingham that they really are in England to study, they also undertake a whirlwind tour of London’s most famous attractions, learn about some gruesome Tudor history and navigate interpersonal dramas galore. College application season is upon them, and while her friends are each coping with the pressure in their own ways, Stevie is definitely not prepared. She also tries to make space for intimate moments with David but faces new worries that his attention is being drawn away by Izzy’s infectious charm.
In Nine Liars, bestselling author Maureen Johnson employs the hallmarks of classical Agatha Christie-style mysteries, such as frontispiece maps and a (metaphorical) locked room, while cleverly subverting others. Stevie still gathers the suspects together to reveal the solution, but she does so in a fresh and unexpected way, and Johnson replaces Christie’s stock characters with Stevie’s diverse and emotionally nuanced friends.
Flashbacks to 1995, including sometimes conflicting witness statements, alternate with Johnson’s present-day narration, enabling readers to form and then question their own theories of the case. This structure allows parallel models of friendship and romance, trust and lies, to form between the two time periods. Readers who flip frequently between past and present as they read will be richly rewarded, since Johnson’s fair-play mystery provides enough clues for especially observant readers to solve the case before its resolution.
Like Johnson’s previous Stevie Bell mystery, The Box in the Woods, Nine Liars can be enjoyed as a standalone, but readers who know and love Stevie and her classmates will feel like they’re returning to a satisfying jaunt with beloved friends.