The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

“‘Really? You carry crime-scene gloves?’

‘You can get them in any drugstore. Treat yourself.'”

The Vanishing Stair Cover

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All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.


TW: suicide, dissection lab gore, murder, alcoholism, graphic injury

Fun fact: this blog began with a review of Truly Devious, this review right here. In a way, this series is my origin story, which of course meant that I pre-ordered The Vanishing Stair as soon as I possibly could. This series is part of the Words Gremlin legacy!

And oh my god did it deliver.

For starters, I want to say that Vi’s pronouns were handled correctly this time around, and they were addressed with they/them consistently instead of only in dialogue. It’s a small point in some ways, compared to the overall plot, but it was one of the things about Truly Devious that bothered me, and one of the things I was REALLY GLAD that got addressed.

Also, they’re so stinking cute with Janelle? Between all the drama and murder, those two are so sappy and charming and dorky and it was WHOLESOME.

But back to the bigger issues at hand, like, y’know, MURDER. And the 1936 kidnapping, too, of course.

I felt like this was a great way of avoiding that terrible second book syndrome where it just doesn’t live up to the first. The Vanishing Stair picks up right about where Truly Devious left off, leaving Stevie in the wake of one murder, one disappearance, and one big mystery she hasn’t yet cracked. It also introduces new clues, new suspects (at least in my opinion; there’s a couple folks lookin’ real shady now that I look back…), and new murders.

Yes, I say murders. Plural. Because I don’t believe for a second that the first one was an accident made in a panic so much as a set-up. Too much doesn’t add up for me to believe that [REDACTED SPOILER] died in that particular location if she already knew about it and had been using it enough to make it to that place to begin with. Not to mention there’s a decoy involved in her death that I don’t think for a second that she had the time or the foresight to set up on her own.

And that second murder? Highly suspicious and I don’t like that I’m blaming the particular person I’m blaming for it, because that person has so far done no visible harm, only acted in the best interests of Stevie and the other Ellingham students.

All this means there’s still pieces missing, which makes sense. This is a murder mystery series, after all, with one over-arching mystery tied into all the smaller mysteries along the way! (@ Maureen: please give me the answers, tell me if I’m right I’M SCARED TO BE RIGHT BUT WANT TO KNOWWWWW)

On the flipside, there were things actually really truly solved through Stevie’s investigation and via flashbacks, including the riddle from the first book: what’s always on a staircase, but never on a stair?

I won’t spoil that for you here (feel free to DM me on Twitter @wordsgremlin if you want to know, though…), but HOLY SMOKES. It’s a simpler answer than you think it is, and I figured it out only seconds before reading the actual reveal. So many pieces have fallen into place regarding the 1936 mystery, and yet there are also still pieces ahead, ones that are bound to have heavy impact on the third book.

In short, I was actually satisfied this time, not left totally hanging like last time, when nothing really was solved save for one subplot. This was PHENOMENAL about tying up loose ends while chasing new threads, and it gives me the sense that the conclusion is going to be an intense as hell ride.

But I did give this four stars, and in short, that comes down to a tiny bit of disappointment (I did think a little bit more would be resolved, so I was left a little hanging), and because of David Eastham.

I am unbelievably bored of David Eastham.

I know there’s some things between him and his dad that are enough to make any kid want to act out and get away. I know there’s a history there that isn’t a positive one. But also, most of his interactions with Stevie are super flirty, or he’s being flippant and rude. They shared one moment I did like in the wake of something tragic, but on the whole, their interactions left me wanting David to just go away, and for Stevie to find someone who can be honest with her and she can be honest with them. Maybe I’m picky about my love interests, or maybe I’m just tired of the charming jackass. Could be either one.

Looking over the whole thing, though, I’m absolutely delighted I’ve read this book, and absolutely CRUSHED the next one isn’t available yet. Part of me knows to just be patient and wait for it to arrive. The other part of me is finding that to be very, very difficult because I NEED the answers, NEED to know if I’m right about who’s to blame for the current Ellingham problems, NEED to know the full truth about the 1936 kidnappings. Basically, I need more riddles, and I need more answers, and this series is hitting the spot with both. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I’d recommend hopping to it as soon as you can. Full steam ahead on that murder train, you know?


Have you already read The Vanishing Stair? Because if you have, we should totally talk and bounce theories back and forth. And if you haven’t, you should get around to it so we can talk and bounce theories back and forth. I am FILLED WITH SPOILERS that CRAVE discussion, you guys. It’s like sticking an aerosol can in a sauna. I’m gonna explode because there’s JUST SO MUCH TO KEEP IN.

0 thoughts on “The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

  1. I finished this book last night but haven’t written my review yet (or really pulled together my thoughts yet), so I am sorry I just skimmed after I saw the 4 star rating LOL! I was satisfied with the answers we got this time, but the first 40% of the book was a dragfest of boredom and unnecessaryness for me. I’ll pop back once I review the book though, glad you liked it!

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