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Read a full summary of The Hand on the Wall, book #3 in Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious series. This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Hand on the Wall, then you are in the right place!

Special thanks to Susan Jensen, a BSR contributor, who wrote this great recap! Visit her blog to check out what she’s reading and see what’s on her mind. See the end of the recap for links to her Goodreads and Facebook accounts.

Maureen Johnson

4.5 stars on Amazon
4.14 stars on Goodreads
Add The Hand on the Wall at Goodreads.

Truly Devious Series
#1 Truly Devious (recap)
#2 The Vanishing Stair (recap)
#3 The Hand on the Wall (this page)
#4 The Box in the Woods (synopsis)
#5 Nine Liars (synopsis)
#6 Untitled (Goodreads)

***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****

What happened in The Hand on the Wall?

On December 15, 1932, at a private hospital in the Swiss Alps, Albert Ellingham (one of the wealthiest men in America and the founder of Ellingham Academy) and Leonard Holmes Nair (a painter and family friend) are waiting for a baby to be born. Albert nervously plays with an antique clock he has just purchased. It has a secret compartment and supposedly belonged to Marie Antoinette. When the baby is born, Albert goes to the room to greet his new infant daughter, whom he and his wife, Iris, name Alice Madeline Ellingham. The baby’s birth mother is Flora Robinson, Iris’ best friend. Flora will not name the father. The adoption is being kept a secret.

In the present, Stevie Bell, a student at Ellingham Academy—a secretive, exclusive, and very remote private school in the Vermont woods—has been living in a state of quiet shock after two incidents:

  1. (1)  David Eastman—Stevie’s maybe boyfriend and the wealthy son of Senator Edward King—paid someone to punch him in the face, uploaded the video to the Internet, and disappeared. He has been ghosting her ever since. Previously, the senator had helped Stevie return to the school after her parents pulled her out, provided she agreed to keep David out of trouble.
  2. (2)  Dr. Fenton’s death. Fenton was an expert on the Ellingham case and was acting as one of Stevie’s advisers as she worked to solve the case. The woman, a known alcoholic, was supposedly drunk when she lit a cigarette near an open fire, causing her house to burn to the ground. Stevie strongly suspects foul play.

Stevie thinks she has solved the Ellingham case. She believes George Marsh—an FBI friend of Albert’s whom he hired to find out who was behind the kidnappings of his wife and daughter and his wife’s subsequent murder— was the mastermind behind the crimes. She surmises that George snuck into the dome in the walled garden of the Great House, where he was surprised to discover Dottie Epstein, an Ellingham Academy student who liked to read there. He killed her so she couldn’t rat him out, but not before she secretly marked a passage in the Sherlock Holmes adventure she was reading that gave a clue as to her killer’s identity.

Needing information, Stevie goes to see Dr. Charles Scott, the head of the school, telling him she wants to talk about her feelings. She notices the antique clock on his desk, which belonged to Albert Ellingham. Charles tells Stevie that since Alice has never been found, a portion of the money that she would have inherited from her parents is being given to the school. It’s being used to erect new buildings on campus. He also tells her that Hunter, Dr. Fenton’s nephew, is homeless because of the fire that killed his aunt and will be coming to live at Ellingham Academy temporarily. He gives Stevie a credit card and asks her to go into Burlington and buy Hunte, who is from Florida, some warm clothing.

While in town, Stevie sees a poster advertising a cabaret performance. On the flyer is a photograph of a performer who looks just like Element “Ellie” Walker, an Ellingham Academy student who was recently killed on campus.

In the past timeline (1936), Francis Crane (a wealthy student whose family is close with the Ellinghams) and Eddie Davenport, her boyfriend and classmate, are making plans to leave the Academy with a bang. Literally. The duo, who fancy themselves Bonnie and Clyde, like to meet in a secret grotto on campus where extra building supplies (like dynamite) are stored. They decide to amuse themselves by sending a threatening letter to the Ellinghams. They compose a poem, sign it “Truly, Devious,” and mail it to the school while they’re in Burlington. Francis records all of their ideas and actions in a notebook she always carries with her. When Francis returns to her dorm after their meeting, she realizes the photographs she and Eddie took of themselves posing as Bonnie and Clyde are gone. They must have fallen out of her notebook as she was hurrying home. She hides her notebook in her dorm closet.

Stevie finds the address on the flier, which leads her to The Burlington Art Collective Action House, an artists’ colony where Ellie liked to hang out. She meets Bath, a friend of Ellie’s who tells her that Ellie was not the one who had projected a “Truly, Devious”-type message on Stevie’s dorm room wall (in Truly Devious). Bath also says that Ellie always talked about things being hidden inside the walls at Ellingham Academy.

(1936) Dottie spies Francis and Eddie acting suspiciously. She follows them. When several photographs fall out of Francis’ notebook, she scoops them up, puts them inside a tin, and hides it inside the wall of her dorm room (the same tin that Stevie finds in Ellie’s dorm room in Truly Devious).

Out of the blue, Stevie receives a call from David, who refuses to divulge where he’s been or what he’s been doing.

(1936) Leo Nair is talking to Flora Robinson (Alice’s birth mother) while police swarm Ellingham Academy looking for clues in the kidnappings of Iris and Alice. Leo guesses that Alice’s birth father is George Marsh. Flora confirms that the two had a brief dalliance. She says he never knew about her pregnancy.

Hunter moves into the dorm room next to Stevie’s, which used to belong to Ellie. He accompanies Stevie and a large group of others to see a demonstration that Janelle Franklin (Stevie’s best friend at Ellingham) is doing of a large Rube Goldberg machine she designed and built. The machine explodes, turning pieces into projectiles, which cause destruction to the art barn and injure several students. Janelle is horrified. Stevie is suspicious. It appears to her that someone sabotaged the machine, but who?

The next morning, Charles announces that because of the explosion the semester will be ending prematurely and the school will be evacuated. Due to an oncoming storm, students will be departing immediately. When Stevie returns to her dorm to pack, David is there.

(1936) Flora and Leo are watching the lake at Ellingham Academy get drained because a psychic said Alice’s body was in it. Albert ushers them inside the Great House to show them the dollhouse he had made for Alice in Germany. It’s a detailed miniature of the Great House. Albert is triumphant, but the others find it disturbing. While Flora and George look at it, Flora tells George that Alice is their child. George is stunned and horrified when he realizes that Alice was kidnapped by the men he hired. (In The Vanishing Stair, it is explained that George planned the kidnapping/ransom scenario because he needed money to pay a gambling debt. The plan went awry when Dottie saw George in the dome. Then, the hired men demanded more money. They killed Iris against George’s wishes. George told Albert he knew where Alice was, but before he could say more, the boat he and Albert were sailing in exploded.) George vows to make finding Alice the sole focus of his life.

Senator King previously announced his plans to run for president of the United States. David and his friends all know the man is evil and needs to be stopped. David shows his friends the flash drives he nabbed from his father’s hidden safe. He convinces Stevie, Nate, Janelle, and Vi to secretly stay at Ellingham with him while everyone else evacuates and help him search the flash drives together so they can take down the senator with whatever they find. David disables the school’s security cameras and the kids sneak into the gym, where David hands out tablets and laptops to everyone but Stevie.

(1937) George Marsh searches all the wise-guy haunts he can think of to find the two guys he hired for the kidnap/ransom job. He eventually finds one of them. Jerry tells George that he and his partner left Alice with a nice couple who had a cabin in the woods in New York. He says he can’t remember where exactly the cabin was located.

The next morning, the group who stayed in the gym overnight finds themselves snowed in. They crawl out the gym windows and go back to Minerva, where Hunter and Pix (a professor and Minerva’s dorm manager) are waiting for them. An exasperated Pix tells them they are all on house arrest. That night, David and Stevie have a fight in his room. David is furious that Stevie has been spying on him for his dad. They part, mad at each other.

After her argument with David, Stevie has a chat with Hunter. He says his aunt was obsessed with a supposed codicil in Albert Ellingham’s will that allegedly dictates that a large sum of his money is being left to Alice. If she isn’t found within a certain period, the money goes to the school. David sends an email from a made-up member of his father’s campaign team to the Ellingham Academy board asking for a copy of Albert’s will.

Stevie and Janelle use a wall scanner and other tools to make an opening in a wall in Stevie’s dorm room. They find the notebook Francis filled with notes and hid there in the 1930s. It also contains several photographs of Francis and Eddie and one the pair took of Leo painting Iris in front of the dome.

(1937) Jerry leads George to the farmhouse where he left Alice. A man at the house directs George and Jerry to a grave in the backyard. He explains that Alice died of measles two weeks ago. The couple who was watching her couldn’t take her to the doctor because they would have been arrested. The men dig up Alice’s body. George shoots Jerry, buries him in Alice’s grave, and takes Alice’s body with him. He also shoots the man in the house.

When the power goes out at the school, everyone at Minerva moves into the Great House, where Charles and Dr. Quinn (another Ellingham administrator) are staying. David shows Stevie a reply to the email he sent to Ellingham Academy’s board. Dr. Quinn had responded to it, saying that document was no business of Senator King’s. Stevie sees this as proof that the alleged codicil is real. She urges David to write another email insisting on having a copy of the codicil. She needs it to prove money as a motive for the Ellingham case. David replies that he will do it, but only if Stevie never talks to him again. (He’s mad because he considers Stevie a spy for his father). Stevie agrees and David writes the email.

(1937) On the one year anniversary of the kidnapping of Iris and Alice, Albert suggests that the people in his house take a trip with him to Burlington. The tunnels under the drained lake are being filled and George suggests he should stay behind to supervise. When the others have gone and he believes no one else is watching, he retrieves Alice’s body and buries it in the tunnel. Unbeknownst to him, Leo has been watching him. Disturbed by what he’s seen, Leo searches Albert’s office for the revolver Albert keeps there. He finds keys inside the antique clock, which belong to various drawers and cabinets in the office. Inside of one, he finds the gun. Leo confronts George, who tells him that he found Alice but can’t bear to break the news to Albert since looking for Alice is the only thing keeping Albert going. Leo agrees.

The kids find evidence on Senator King’s flash drives that he is blackmailing people to obtain funds for his presidential campaign. They decide to erase all the records so that he no longer has the ability to do so.

Stevie finds a puzzling passage in Francis’ notebook. She also notices that, when comparing Francis’ photo of Leo painting and the actual painting he created that now hangs in the Great House, there are differences that seem…purposeful. Stevie also realizes that the lines in the notebook are actually instructions on how to find a “treasure.” She follows them and discovers the grotto where Francis and Eddie liked to hide and plot. David follows Stevie into the grotto, surprising her. Then, the hatch above them slams shut and they are trapped inside.

While trapped in the grotto, David tells Stevie he didn’t let her help him search his father’s flash drives because he couldn’t stand the thought of his father getting to her again. He also shows her an email he received confirming that Albert Ellingham’s will stipulates that if Alice is dead, whoever finds her (provided they were not involved in her death) will receive 10 million dollars (worth considerably more now than it was in the 1930s). If she or her remains are not found by her 90th birthday, the money will go to Ellingham Academy instead. It also stipulates that no member of the school’s administration or faculty is allowed to receive the money. David also shows Stevie a text from his dad saying that Senator King knows about the stolen flash drives

and will take David to court for theft. David tells him off. Then, Stevie and David—who have now made up—use the dynamite they find in the grotto to blow up the hatch and free themselves.

(1938) After Albert’s death, Leo and Robert Mackenzie—Albert’s secretary—are in Albert’s office, where Robert is packing up the deceased’s things. Robert tells Leo about the codicil to Albert’s will, which left ten million dollars to whoever found Alice. Both men agree that publicizing the codicil would only cause a media frenzy and lead to people coming out of the woodwork pretending to be Alice or giving false information in order to get the money. They hide the codicil inside the antique clock. Leo alters the painting he’s been doing of Iris so that her finger is pointing to the spot where Alice is buried.

How did The Hand on the Wall end?

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson (Plot Summary with Spoilers)

Stevie puts all the pieces of the puzzle together. She gathers everyone in Albert’s office to reveal all she knows. She reveals that:

  • Charles and Dr. Quinn knew about the codicil because they discovered it when they had the antique clock cleaned. They kept it quiet because they didn’t want to start a media circus.
  • Alice’s remains were discovered during construction on the art barn, but Charles kept that quiet too, knowing that he was sitting on a secret that was worth a fortune.
  • Since Charles works for the school, he can’t claim the money. He needed a partner. He intended to use Dr. Fenton, but she didn’t play along, so he killed her.
  • Hayes Major (a film student who was making a movie about the Ellingham case and was killed in Truly Devious) discovered something about the Ellingham case that he shouldn’t have, so Charles stole Janelle’s access pass, made sure Hayes’ fingerprints were on it, then put dry ice in the tunnels so that Hayes would be trapped in the tunnel and die of carbon monoxide poisoning. He made it look like Hayes was killed because of his own stupidity.
  • Charles was the one who projected the Truly Devious letter onto Stevie’s wall in order to pique her interest and freak her out at the same time.
  • Charles discovered that Ellie had been helping Hayes make his movie and that he must have told her what he knew. When she was called into Charles’ office and he told her he was calling a lawyer, he must have hinted that there was a way out of the building by going through the wall. She went, got trapped, and died.
  • Since Charles still needed a partner, he brought Hunter to Ellingham. Then, he sabotaged Janelle’s machine, causing an accident severe enough to justify evacuating the school. He intended to convince Hunter to be his partner and split the money. Hunter was unaware of Charles’ intentions. Just as Stevie is running out of things to say, Larry (Ellingham’s ex security officer, with whom Steive has kept in touch) comes into the room. He starts searching Albert’s office, ignoring Charles’ protests. Using the wall scanner, he detects something inside the walls. It’s the corpse of Alice Ellingham.

Because of the storm, everyone stays the night in the Great House. Charles is held in his office by Larry. Stevie and David sleep in the ballroom. In the morning, the police and other emergency service workers come. They discover that Charles has escaped through a bathroom into the basement. He falls to his death.

A helicopter comes to take David away. He goes with his dad’s men, but before he leaves he shows Stevie that he has a stick of dynamite. He also promises to keep in touch with her, which he does. After news of his dad’s dishonest dealings get out, David becomes an intern with a rival presidential candidate. Some people, including Stevie’s parents, believe the senator is being wrongly accused. David is determined to take him down.

Even though Stevie solves the Ellingham case, she doesn’t want to try to get Albert’s money. She wants it to go to the school, as the Ellinghams would have wanted.

There you go! That’s what happened in The Hand on the Wall. We hope you enjoyed this The Hand on the Wall summary with spoilers.

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truly devious
the vanishing stair
the hand on the wall
the box in the woods
nine liars

Again, a special thanks to Susan Jensen, a BSR contributor, who wrote this great recap! Visit her blog to check out what she’s reading and see what’s on her mind. See the end of the recap for links to her Goodreads and Facebook accounts.

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