Crazy Bett

by Michael J. O'Neal

Verdict: Spying, secret codes, intrigue, action, comedy and a love story!

IR Rating



IR Rating

Her name was Elizabeth Van Lew, but her neighbors in Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War called her Crazy Bett.  In fact, Elizabeth ran a Union spy ring in the capital of the Confederacy–pulling it off by posing as a madwoman.

Crazy Bett is based on historical events and takes a sometimes light-hearted look at the world of Civil War espionage. Vital war intelligence flows into Elizabeth’s Richmond mansion–and out in coded messages secreted in bodices or the boots of couriers. Aiding her are African American Union loyalists, including an ex-slave who works undercover as a servant in the Jefferson Davis White House, and a clerk she’s placed in the city’s infamous Libby Prison.

Through the efforts of Elizabeth and her underground network, a group of Union prisoners of war make a dramatic escape to safety–but not before one, the rakish Captain Harry Howard, loses his footing to Josey Holmes, one of Elizabeth’s associates.

As the war of rosewater chivalry descends into a street brawl, plots and counter plots threaten the life of Confederate president Davis and threaten to ignite antiwar revolution in the North. Under Elizabeth’s guiding hand, and in spite of her grave doubts about the wisdom of her actions, characters conspire to thwart conspiracy, often by adopting disguises or posing as double agents. Ultimately, Howard and Josey survive a breathless moonlit horseback ride through Confederate lines to save the president-and to save each other.

Reviewed by Cindy Erdesohn

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