I've been following the career of Edwin "Bud" Shrake since 1961 when he and Gary Cartwright were doing sports stories and columns for The Dallas Morning News. What a tandem that was, and it was a great day for sports writing in Dallas. While this review is concerned with Shrake's book, I should admit that I'm a Cartwright fan, too. He, like Shrake, has written articles, novels, and nonfiction books that I've enjoyed over the course of a lot of years. In fact, he's one up on Shrake in a way: He's written a Gold Medal original.
But back to Shrake. He's written some fine novels (Strange Peaches, Blessed McGill), but you might know him from the best-selling sports book in American publishing history, Harvey Penick's Little Red Book. Or maybe you remember his articles from Sports Illustrated. He's a versatile guy.
Custer's Brother's Horse is a novel set in Texas just after the Civil War. Jerod Robin, a former Confederate officer, and Emund Varney, a British novelist (he perfers the term "romancer"), find themselves imprisoned in Austin waiting to be hanged, Robin for having crossed a man named Santana Leatherwood, whose family and Robin's have been feuding for years, and Varney for having stolen Tom Custer's horse. Robin and Varney are spared their fate and released, along with a woman named Flora Bowprie, to make their way as best they can.
This is a road novel, as the unlikely trio travels through Texas, encountering any number of entertaining and oddball characters, most of whom have a story to tell. Some of the characters and stories do little to advance the plot, but I didn't care. I just enjoyed. One woman, Isabella Bushkin, wife of a politician who's skipped the country, goes along with them. (I'll just call your attention here to her last name and let you imagine some of the stuff Shrake has to say about her husband and related political matters. Better yet, you could read the book and find out.)
There's plenty of action, lots of shooting, and some wonderful stuff throughout the book. The last third of it is the best as things work their way to an unexpected (by me) ending. Things don't sort out the way you might think. There's even a sermon, and a good one, too.