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The Box in the Woods: 07/11/21
The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson is a standalone spin-off mystery from the Truly Devious (2018) trilogy. Stevie Bell and cohorts from Ellingham Academy have been hired to solve a cold case at Camp Wonder Falls in rural Barlow Corners.
This time the murders have happened in more recent history — 1978. For the intended reader, it's a time period in their parents' and grandparents' lifetimes. For me it's the year I started kindergarten. It's also a time period from the author's life time as she and I are the same age.
As the flashbacks are only forty-four years back, compared to about eighty years from the Ellingham Academy ones, they blend more naturally with the present day story. It could also be that Johnson found better ways of making the two plots flow together through the practice of writing the previous three.
The other big difference here is that the mystery is self contained. It flows with a similar narrative punctuation as a typical cozy. Stevie as the amateur sleuth begins asking questions that have long since been buried by time and those old enough to remember the crime begin to get nervous. Some just don't want to revisit old painful memories. Some don't want the old hurt feelings back to threaten repaired friendships. And of course at least one person doesn't want to get caught. All this ill will results (as it always does) in a present day murder.
The cold case murder beyond the unique gruesomeness of it reminds me most of Death by French Roast by Alex Erickson (2020). I mean this in terms of time past. Also both feature a crime that happened when some of the characters were teenagers and is being solved when they are middle aged to elderly adults.
Like the Ellingham set books, The Box in the Woods is set in the road narrative spectrum. Stevie and her cohorts are now known for their accomplishments at the school and thus are privileged travelers (00) to the camp. While the camp is their physical destination, the actual goal is solving another cold case, making the final destination uhoria (CC). Their route to the camp, though, is the railroad (00). Thus it's a journey of a privileged traveler to uhoria via the railroad (00CC00).