Edwin “Bud” Shrake’s picaresque Custer’s Brother’s Horse makes fine fodder of the bad blood in Texas following the Civil War, circa 1865. Federal troops visit indignities on the defeated communities they occupy; neighbors who fought on separate sides find no peace in the surrender. The horse in question, Union lieutenant Tom Custer’s Athena, has been stolen by Edmund Varney, a British adventure writer who might as well have “rogue” tattooed on his brow. His offense lands him in an Austin stockade, where Varney allies himself with arrested rebel officer Jerod Robin; together they’ll escape to the coast in the company of two colorful ladies: sixteen-year-old fortune-teller Flora Bowprie and Isabella Bushkin, a senator’s estranged wife. Shrake’s plotting and dialogue are as low-key as they are pitch-perfect. He masterfully spins a historical footnote into a telling lesson about the spoils of war—fully relevant nearly two centuries on.John M. Hardy, $24.95