In Bloodlines, Melissa del Bosque tracks a sprawling web of cocaine and quarter horses spanning the Rio Grande. Her book plants one foot in cartel-controlled Mexico—where military-trained narcos become de-facto governments and messages are sent via decapitated bodies—and another in the fast-money world of quarter horse racing—from Austin’s plush suburbs to Oklahoma’s auction houses. Operating in between are the book’s true subjects: the law enforcement officers, criminal operators, and citizens of the Texas/Mexico border.
Set from 2009 to 2013 during the rise of the Zeta cartel, Bloodlines details the FBI’s investigation into Zetas boss Miguel Treviño’s horse racing empire. Deeply passionate about racing, Treviño combined business with pleasure by using the insular, lightly policed, and desperate-for-cash world of quarter horse racing to launder his drug money. Using his older, heretofore clean brother José as the face of his business, Treviño began to establish an incredibly complex money-laundering scheme within the United States.
By alternating between threats of violence, bribery, and electrical shocks, Treviño quickly secured a few prime winners for his brother’s stable. Then, using Mexican businessmen and a dizzying array of LLCs, straw buyers, fake owners, and a shifting array of horses’ names, he funneled his cocaine cash north, where it would come out of the racing industry so co-mingled and agitated as to be effectively washed clean. Quarter horse racing, which involves sprinting the blindingly fast American quarter horse—compact and muscular, the one you’ve seen on ranches and at rodeos beneath a cowboy—commands an even more niche following than its more famous Thoroughbred counterpart, and it’s popular primarily in the Southwest and Mexico. Waning in popularity and having its gambling windfall cut into by casino gaming, the sport is also badly in need of fresh blood and capital—enough to look the other way as the cartel men edged their way in.
By virtue of keeping her reporting clean and concise, del Bosque easily steers readers through Treviño’s international financial crimes spiked with brutality—the kind that would make Michael Lewis’ usual suspects blush. In tracing the case from the first whispered tip to an FBI agent to the final verdict, she brings a slice of the abstracted drug war into heart-rending focus, turning the bloody diamond before her loupe so that each facet becomes clear.
Bloodlines also serves another important purpose now, a political one. As the eyetooth-flashing nationalists come blinking into the light, del Bosque’s book is a reminder of what many of the immigrants who fled Mexico and Central America have faced. They are refugees from a war they did not start, victims of an appetite that is not their own.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayis, and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, his work can be seen in The Atlantic, Hazlitt, Jezebel, Sports Illustrated, VICE Sports, Creators, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.