Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
11:58 pm EDT
Monday, May 23, 2022

BOOK CLUB: The Scoundrel and the Spy — Love, Treachery, and Civil War Intrigue


STORY: Kathy Porter

In February, 74 Bookworm members were pleased to once again host an author. Self-confessed history buff John H. Frye transported us to Richmond, Va., at the start of the American Civil War, the setting of his novel.

Newly ordained Presbyterian minister Andrew Strickler travels to Richmond to give solace to soldiers about to enter battle and minister to the wounded. His life changes dramatically when he is accused of spying for the Union.

Using historical photographs supplied by the Valentine Richmond History Center, Frye took us on a tour of Richmond and delighted us with pictures of the real-life players who figured prominently in the novel alongside the story’s fictional characters.

The picture of Confederate General John H. Winder depicted a severe and austere man. Winder, a West Point graduate, was in charge of the military prisons, including Castle Thunder, where Strickler was imprisoned, and the infamous Andersonville Prison, where nearly 13,000 Union soldiers died. Winder was severely criticized for the deplorable conditions in the prisons.

The pictures of Elizabeth Van Lew, one of the most successful and daring spies during the American Civil War, elicited a great deal of discussion. We were fortunate to have with us Don Wyman, who spent five years writing a biography of Van Lew. The group found her fascinating, and they were happy to learn that the nickname she earned of “Crazy Bet” was just an act.

Frye described how his characters “talk to him” and sometimes take more prominence in the story than what he originally expected. One of his favorite characters in the novel is Isaac the sutler, a civilian merchant who sells wares to the soldiers. When asked who his favorite author was, Frye was quick to praise Kent Haruf.

Members lauded Frye for his use of locations and dates as his chapter headings. They felt it made it much easier to follow the sequence of events. However, members were disappointed in the abrupt ending and asked if that was deliberately done to pave the way for a sequel. Frye said indeed it was and members asked that he please finish it soon.

About the Author

John H. Frye was born in Birmingham, Ala., to a family with southern heritage but with roots that go back to New England prior to the Civil War. He grew up in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. A graduate of Davidson College and Vanderbilt School of Law, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. He became a judge at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and later at the Occupational Safety and Health Commission. He has received a number of awards for his legal service.
Frye first discovered that he wanted to write in high school but it was not until he reached his sixties that he fulfilled his dream. He has published two other Civil War era novels: With God on Their Side and The Secessionist. He is presently hard at work on the sequel to The Scoundrel and the Spy. Frye and his wife, Ethel, reside in Frederick, Md., and Reedville, Va.

The Next Meeting

The Bookworm Book Club will meet April 15 to discuss Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. Club chair Kathy Porter can be contacted by phone at 352.259.8196 or email at

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