[Series Synopses] Truly Devious #2: The Vanishing Stair

Worldbuilding & Vocabulary

Ellingham Academy

  • located in the Vermont mountains, campus bordered by trees
  • admits only top-tier students, grants them a lot of freedom
  • began in 1935, but the school year “was incomplete because of the kidnappings”; first full academic year began Fall 1938
    • “It was also a very small class. It was the experiment year. So the records aren’t as extensive. There was no full yearbook. However, the school had produced a guide for the first class.”
  • “The first rule of Ellingham Academy was that no one was allowed at Ellingham Academy except the students and faculty. Even parents could only come at appointed times. The road could not withstand heavy traffic, and the school was big on fostering a creative spirit of learning, which meant no randos. Visitors were rare and had recently been only of the police variety.”
  • “The rumor was that Albert Ellingham had designed his pathways by following a cat that was walking the grounds because ‘Cats know best.’ This probably wasn’t true, but you never knew with Albert Ellingham.”

Minerva House

  • an Ellingham Academy residence
  • bedrooms are numbered
  • home to Stevie & friends in the present day, Francis & Dottie in 1936
  • “It had taken [Francis] weeks to work out the trick of the stairs, but she eventually found out that if you pressed on the right spot, a tiny latch would pop out of the bottom. You could use this to pull open a small doorway. Inside the staircase was what appeared to be an empty, tiny bit of storage space. But if you looked carefully, there was a hatch in the floor.”
  • moose head on the wall

Apollo House

  • Eddie’s dorm in 1936, not mentioned in the present day
  • “Apollo was a big building, intended for classrooms, but it currently housed four male students on the second floor. Eddie shared this side of the building with only one other person and could have walked right out the front door, but where was the fun in that?”

Funky Munkee coffee shop

  • located in Pittsburgh, Stevie’s hometown
  • “It was a 1990s relic, with a sign written in a kooky festival font. It had walls painted in bright, primary colors, each wall a different shade. It played an obligatory coffeehouse soundtrack of mid-tempo guitar music. There were blown-up pictures of coffee beans, and plants and wobbly tables to sit at, and oversized mugs.”
  • usually Stevie orders “the smallest, cheapest coffee” and sits in “a stuffy, small alcove room with red walls” at the back of the shop, which she has claimed as her office


  • “Burlington was a pleasant town — very college, touch of hippie, small-town America but with good coffee and snowshoes and yoga and crude profiles of Bernie Sanders spray-painted on walls. There were darker things too — signs of homelessness, some scenes around the courthouse that looked grim.”
  • Church Street: the main shopping street
  • there’s a waterfront

The Skinny Pancake

  • “a large, very low-key place with a hippie vibe, a giant menu of coffees and crepes”
  • Stevie orders a turmeric cappuccino

The Tin

  • found by Stevie in Ellie’s room
  • “The tin was square and red, dented in several places, with rust along the lip. It read OLD ENGLISH TEA BAGS. She opened the lid. It stuck a bit, so it required a gentle wiggle. From inside she produced: a bit of white feather, a bit of beaded cloth, a tarnished, gold-colored lipstick tube with the mummified remains of a red lipstick, a tiny enameled pillbox in the shape of a shoe, some piece of notebook paper and black-and-white photographs, and the unfinished draft of a poem. / These humble objects were the first pieces of real evidence in the Ellingham case in over eighty years.”
  • “It was from somewhere between 1925 and 1940, and the tea was popular and widely sold. The feather was about four inches long and looked like it may have been attached to a piece of clothing. The cloth was two inches square and was a luminous blue, with silver, blue, and black beads, and had torn edges. Another pieces of detritus. The lipstick had the word KISSPROOF on the side. It had been used, but not entirely. The pillbox was the only thing that looked like it might have value. It was just over two inches in length. It was empty. / These four items Stevie thought of as a group. They were personal, they concerned jewelry or clothing. The feather and the torn cloth were junk, so the reason for saving them was mysterious. The lipstick and the pillbox could have had value. All of these items likely belonged to a woman. They were intimate. They meant something to whoever put them in this tin. / The other two items probably had a lot more significance. They were a set of photographs of two people pretending to be Bonnie and Clyde.”

Table of Contents

Each number below corresponds with the section’s page number.

  1. Overview
  2. Plot Summary & Content Warnings
  3. Cast of Characters
  4. Worldbuilding & Vocabulary

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