Read an exclusive excerpt from Maureen Johnson’s mystery


With her teen super detective Stevie Bell, author Maureen Johnson takes readers to the land of Sherlock Holmes and the days of the Spice Girls with a new murder mystery.

The young adult trilogy “Really sneaky” featured Stevie as a detective solving an infamous cold 1930s case at her prestigious private school, and last year’s standalone adventure “The Box in the Woods” found her searching for clues about a slumber camp mystery from the 1970s. USA TODAY has the exclusive reveal and first clip of Johnson’s new whodunit “Nine Liars” (Katherine Tegen Books, out Dec. 27), which features Stevie tackling to a murder spree at a 1990s English mansion that ended in bloody fashion.

Johnson describes herself as “a detective-obsessed, mysterious child” whose first novel was a children’s version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

“And from the first moments, I was addicted,” she says. “When Sherlock saw Watson’s reflection in the teapot, that was it for me. Then I got to Baskerville Hall. From there I chased detectives and tried to find other mansions English to visit. I read two Agatha Christies a day. , following my beloved Poirot everywhere”, whom she considers “my first fictional crush”.

“The Box in the Woods”:Maureen Johnson’s YA Murder Mystery Makes Detective ‘Really Sneaky’

In “Nine Liars”, Stevie takes on the role of a Poirot or a modern Sherlock. She and her pals Janelle, Vi and Nate are back at Ellingham Academy for their final year, although Stevie misses her boyfriend David, who is currently studying abroad in England. He organizes a 10-day remote study visit for them, and it is then that Stevie finds out what happened in 1995 when nine recent Cambridge graduates – all members of a sketch group theatricals, The Nine – had a summer party at a large estate called Merryweather. Two of them never returned from a game of champagne hide-and-seek on the sprawling grounds and the next morning were discovered dead at the stake, murdered with axes.

“For once, Stevie doesn’t want to be bothered with a murder,” Johnson says. “The story is somewhat interesting, but she’s heard of too many people who think they know someone who’s committed murder. She’d rather kiss under Big Ben.” But when one of the “liars” disappears right after talking to Stevie, “things take a turn. Next week Stevie will be taking Stevie all around London, meeting The Nine – and eventually Merryweather himself.”

The following clip takes place after Stevie is introduced to Izzy, a friend of David’s whose Aunt Angela was involved in the 1995 affair. there was much more than had been reported.

Read an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 5 of “Nine Liars” by Maureen Johnson below:

The surefire way to get someone to tell you something you want to know is not to ask them about it. What you do is start telling the story yourself, say what you think happened and say it badly. People may not want to discuss things, but they will correct you every time.

“I think I read about it,” Stevie said.

“You did it?” said Angela. “It didn’t make the headlines very much. I doubt you’ve heard of it.

“Something about a game? Hide and seek? And someone drowned?

It was intolerable, both for the friend and for the professional historian. She couldn’t just sit there and let this mistake continue. She got up and went up the stairs.

“Uh oh,” Vi said.

But it was not a theatrical stunt. Angela returned half a minute later with a small framed object which she passed to Stevie. It was a small poster, handwritten, photocopied on mustard-colored paper:





There was a photo on the page—obviously a printed photo that had been photocopied, so it was black and white and not very sharp. Still, Stevie could tell pretty clearly that it was nine people who wanted you to know it was comedy. They each wore a costume, but neither was related to one of the others. There was a tall woman in a dirty ceremonial dress. One wore a top hat. One of the guys was wearing nothing at all and had a bingo ball turner strategically placed on his groin.

“That’s what happened,” Angela said. “When I was at Cambridge I was in a theater troupe. There were nine of us. We met during the first week and at some auditions in our freshman year, and we all became friends. We wrote and played shows together.

“The Nine? Stevie asked.

Maureen Johnson grew up as a child obsessed with murder mysteries and literary sleuths like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

“That’s what we were called,” Angela said. “Despite what it looks like, we weren’t bad. We weren’t Footlights or anything like that, but we had a good following. We went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival twice and did well. Such…”

She gestured to a tall woman in a tattered evening dress.

“…is an actress. She does a lot of Shakespeare, occasionally on television. She is still working. She’s an incredible impressionist. And Yash and Peter…”

She pointed to the guy wearing nothing and holding the bingo balls, as well as the guy in cowboy gear.

“It’s Peter, the nude. And that’s Yash in the hat. They’re a writing team and they work on a lot of shows – comedy shows, sitcoms, all sorts of things. In fact, Peter and Yash just won an award for their latest show last week. They always do that. So at least three of us ended up playing. And I do a bit of TV work, so that’s four, I guess. Anyway, we got a house together in our third year, all nine of us. We were each other’s entire life, really. Sebastian’s family had a large country house called Merryweather. We went there sometimes, after term. Our last year, after the exams, Sébastien invited us there for a week of prom. His family had moved to their other home in Greece, so the house was ours. The evening of our arrival, we were playing a game: a group of hide and seek. We played there all the time. One person would start as a seeker, and as each person was found, they would join the seeker team until only one person remained. We played until early morning, but went inside after the storm got too intense. Two of my friends – Rosie and Noel…we didn’t realize they were missing at first. We assumed they were…that they wanted time for themselves. In the morning we found them at the stake. They had bothered the burglars in the night, or the burglars had bothered them. Either way, they were killed, with a wooden ax from the shed. They never found out who did it. It’s history.

“But what about the lock?” Izzy said.

Angela didn’t exactly scream or throw a plate across the room, but the word “lock” had a chilling effect on her. She cocked her head to the side. For a moment, she didn’t answer, before coughing a “what?” »

“The lock,” repeated Izzy. “Your friends were found in a pyre that was supposed to be locked. You told me; you said the lock was out of the door in the night.

The color drained from Angela’s face.

“When did I say that?”

“When I was staying with you after you had that knee surgery earlier this year.”

The mood in the room has completely changed.

“There’s nothing about a lock,” Angela replied, in a way that made it clear that there was definitely something going on with the lock.

“You said something about concealed evidence, and that…”

Angela wasn’t trying to hide her discomfort anymore.

“That was powerful medicine, Izzy.”

“You said you thought a friend of yours was a murderer. I know it’s terrible for you, but it was real. I could see it was real. Steve can help you. She’s done that before.

The doorknob rattled the assembly’s ankles as an awkward silence fell over the group. This effectively cut off the conversation. We wouldn’t talk about murder anymore.

“I hate to be rude,” Angela said, “but I have an early morning call and I still have work to finish tonight.”

That night, as she flopped onto her bed in the dorm and listened to the creak of plastic against the frame, Stevie stared at the corona of light from the lamppost outside and replayed the conversation with Angela in her head.

There’s nothing about a lock. It was powerful medicine, Izzy.

Angela was lying to them. Why? Why bother lying when she could have been dismissive, saying something like, “Who even knows? It doesn’t matter.” Why say there’s nothing about a padlock when everything in your voice and body says there was something about a padlock, and that the padlock was important?

As she lost consciousness, Stevie caught the end of a realization. She knew the emotion she had seen pass over Angela’s features as she told her story. It wasn’t sadness about what had happened, or annoyance that she was being pressured into telling a traumatic story to a group of strange teenagers in her house.

It was fear.


Comments are closed.